Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene function that do not involve changes in the DNA sequence.
The Greek prefix epi- (ἐπι- “over, outside of, around”) in epigenetics implies features that are “on top of” or “in addition to” the traditional genetic basis for inheritance.
Epigenetics often refers to changes in a chromosome that affect gene activity and expression, but can also be used to describe any heritable phenotypic change that does not derive from a modification of the genome, such as prions. Such effects on cellular and physiological phenotypic traits may result from external or environmental factors, or be part of normal developmental program. The standard definition of epigenetics requires these alterations to be heritable, either in the progeny of cells or of organisms.
In each glioblastoma GBM, hundreds of genes are subject to DNA hypermethylation at their CpG island promoters. A subset of GBMs is also characterized by locus-specific and genome-wide decrease in DNA methylation, or DNA hypomethylation. Other epigenetic alterations, such as changes in the position of histone variants and changes in histone modifications are also likely important in the molecular pathology of GBM, but somewhat surprisingly there are very limited data about these in GBM. Alterations in histone modifications are especially important to understand, given that histone deacetylases are targets for drugs that are in clinical trial for GBMs. The technological wave of next-generation sequencing will accelerate GBM epigenome profiling, allowing the direct integration of DNA methylation, histone modification and gene expression profiles. Ultimately, genomic and epigenomic data should provide new predictive markers of response and lead to more effective therapies for GBM 1)