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Phenotypic plasticity and the epigenetics of human disease

Nature volume 447, pages 433440 (24 May 2007) | Download Citation

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Abstract

It is becoming clear that epigenetic changes are involved in human disease as well as during normal development. A unifying theme of disease epigenetics is defects in phenotypic plasticity — cells' ability to change their behaviour in response to internal or external environmental cues. This model proposes that hereditary disorders of the epigenetic apparatus lead to developmental defects, that cancer epigenetics involves disruption of the stem-cell programme, and that common diseases with late-onset phenotypes involve interactions between the epigenome, the genome and the environment. Increased understanding of epigenetic-disease mechanisms could lead to disease-risk stratification for targeted intervention and to targeted therapies.

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Acknowledgements

I thank H. Bjornsson, R. Ohlsson, T. Ekstrom, D. Gius and C. Ladd-Acosta for their many thoughtful insights, and J. Fairman for her artistry. This work was supported by a grant from the NIH.

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Affiliations

  1. Department of Medicine and Center for Epigenetics, Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 720 Rutland Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA.

    • Andrew P. Feinberg

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Competing interests

The author declares no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence should be addressed to the author (afeinberg@jhu.edu).

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05919

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