Epigenetics concerns the chemical groups that bind to DNA and its associated proteins. These help determine the selective use of genes and influence cell fate. Abnormal epigenetic modifications and control can cause disease, including cancer.
Since the sequencing of the human genome the profound influence of epigenetics has become to be appreciated. Knowing the sequences of genes within a cell is not enough to drive the invention of breakthrough therapeutics – it is the understanding of how the genes are used that is important.
Critical components of the epigenetic modification machinery include histone deacteylases (HDACs), histone methyl-transferases, methyl cytosine binding proteins, DNA methyl-transferases and small RNA species including RNAi, non-coding RNAs and anti-sense RNA.
However the complete mechanism by which epigenetic changes take place, and by which cell fate is altered, is currently unknown.