Epigenetic regulation in cancer progression

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Cancer is a disease arising from both genetic and epigenetic modifications of DNA that contribute to changes in gene expression in the cell. Genetic modifications include loss or amplification of DNA, loss of heterozygosity (LOH) as well as gene mutations. Epigenetic changes in cancer are generally thought to be brought about by alterations in DNA and histone modifications that lead to the silencing of tumour suppressor genes and the activation of oncogenic genes. Other consequences that result from epigenetic changes, such as inappropriate expression or repression of some genes in the wrong cellular context, can also result in the alteration of control and physiological systems such that a normal cell becomes tumorigenic. Excessive levels of the enzymes that act as epigenetic modifiers have been reported as markers of aggressive breast cancer and are associated with metastatic progression. It is likely that this is a common contributor to the recurrence and spread of the disease. The emphasis on genetic changes, for example in genome-wide association studies and increasingly in whole genome sequencing analyses of tumours, has resulted in the importance of epigenetic changes having less attention until recently. Epigenetic alterations at both the DNA and histone level are increasingly being recognised as playing a role in tumourigenesis. Recent studies have found that distinct subgroups of poor-prognosis tumours lack genetic alterations but are epigenetically deregulated, pointing to the important role that epigenetic modifications and/or their modifiers may play in cancer. In this review, we highlight the multitude of epigenetic changes that can occur and will discuss how deregulation of epigenetic modifiers contributes to cancer progression. We also discuss the off-target effects that epigenetic modifiers may have, notably the effects that histone modifiers have on non-histone proteins that can modulate protein expression and activity, as well as the role of hypoxia in epigenetic regulation.




Baxter, E., Windloch, K., Gannon, F., & Lee, J. S. (2014, August 19). Epigenetic regulation in cancer progression. Cell and Bioscience. BioMed Central Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1186/2045-3701-4-45

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