Environmental epigenomics in human health and disease



The epigenome consists of the DNA methylation marks and histone modifications involved in controlling gene expression. It is accurately reproduced during mitosis and can be inherited transgenerationally. The innate plasticity of the epigenome also enables it to be reprogrammed by nutritional, chemical, and physical factors. Imprinted genes and metastable epialleles represent two classes of genes that are particularly susceptible to environmental factors because their regulation is tightly linked to epigenetic mechanisms. To fully understand the etiology of the most devastating diseases that plague humans, the full complexity of the human epigenome will ultimately need to be characterized. Moreover, the elucidation of the interaction of the environment with the epigenome should allow for the development of novel epigenetic-based diagnostic, prevention, and therapeutic strategies for human diseases. Herein, we introduce the emerging field of environmental epigenomics, discuss the importance of imprinted genes and metastable epialleles as epigenetically labile genomic targets, and endorse the genome-wide identification of the full suite of epigenetically labile targets in both the mouse and human genomes. Environ. Mol. Mutagen., 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.