Basic concepts of epigenetics: Impact of environmental signals on gene expression


Through epigenetic modifications, specific long-term phenotypic consequences can arise from environmental influence on slowly evolving genomic DNA. Heritable epigenetic information regulates nucleosomal arrangement around DNA and determines patterns of gene silencing or active transcription. One of the greatest challenges in the study of epigenetics as it relates to disease is the enormous diversity of proteins, histone modifications and DNA methylation patterns associated with each unique maladaptive phenotype. This is further complicated by a limitless combination of environmental cues that could alter the epigenome of specific cell types, tissues, organs and systems. In addition, complexities arise from the interpretation of studies describing analogous but not identical processes in flies, plants, worms, yeast, ciliated protozoans, tumor cells and mammals. This review integrates fundamental basic concepts of epigenetics with specific focus on how the epigenetic machinery interacts and operates in continuity to silence or activate gene expression. Topics covered include the connection between DNA methylation, methyl-CpG-binding proteins, transcriptional repression complexes, histone residues, histone modifications that mediate gene repression or relaxation, histone core variant stability, H1 histone linker flexibility, FACT complex, nucleosomal remodeling complexes, HP1 and nuclear lamins.

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Basic concepts of epigenetics: Impact of environmental signals on gene expression