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CHAPTER 1

Epigenetics – What it is and Why it Matters

Over the last decade there has been a revolution in our understanding of gene regulation, and how patterns of gene expression are established and maintained in eukaryotic cells. We now know that many factors – including the chemical modification of chromatin, many of the proteins involved in packaging DNA, and even where a gene is located in the nucleus – will influence transcriptional activity. These ‘epigenetic’ mechanisms are essential in ensuring short-term gene activity is appropriate for a cell's environment, and that cell-type specific patterns of gene expression are maintained over the longer term. As these are integral aspects of gene regulation, epigenetic mechanisms are inevitably involved in the misregulation of genes in disease, and occasionally act as the initiating step. As such, the promise of ‘epigenetic therapies’, based on drugs that target these processes, is huge. This chapter is aimed at a non-expert reader, and acts as an introduction to: (i) broadly define epigenetic phenomena; (ii) discuss how genes are regulated in higher organisms, and how epigenetic mechanisms play a crucial role in this, including their deregulation in disease; and (iii) explain how epigenetic processes represent an important new class of targets for clinical intervention.

Print publication date: 20 Nov 2015
Copyright year: 2016
Print ISBN: 978-1-84973-882-8
PDF eISBN: 978-1-78262-848-4
ePub eISBN: 978-1-78262-772-2
Citation:
From the book series:
Drug Discovery