PerspectiveSTEM CELLS

Epigenome Disruptors

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Science  29 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6004, pp. 598-599
DOI: 10.1126/science.1199006

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The “epigenome” comprises a range of modifications that are imposed on the genome (DNA) and ensure the stable transmission of gene expression patterns without changes to the DNA sequence. “Epigenetic disruptors” could change gene activity and in the case of stem cells, alter cell fate or number, causing, for example, an increased risk of cancer (1). “Epimutations” arising in this way may even pass through the germ line to the gametes, thereby affecting subsequent generations. Due to their inherent developmental plasticity, stem cells may be an ideal reporter system for epigenetic perturbations. This could be achieved by studying loci (such as imprinted genes) that undergo epigenetic alterations in normal development, and monitoring their response to potentially disruptive agents. Are such screens feasible, and would they provide a systematic and reproducible readout?