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Keywords:

  • DNA methylation;
  • environmental exposure;
  • imprinting;
  • miRNA

Epigenetics is focused on understanding the control of gene expression beyond what is encoded in the sequence of DNA. Central to growing interest in the field is the hope that more can be learned about the epigenetic regulatory mechanisms underlying processes of human development and disease. Researchers have begun to examine epigenetic alterations – such as changes in promoter DNA methylation, genomic imprinting, and expression of miRNA – to learn more about epigenetic regulation in the placenta, an organ whose proper development and function are crucial to the health, growth, and survival of the developing fetus. A number of studies are now making important links between alterations to appropriate epigenetic regulation in the placenta and diseases of gestation and early life. In addition, these studies are adding important insight into our understanding of trophoblast biology and differentiation as well as placental immunology. Examining epigenetic alterations in the placenta will prove especially important in the search for biomarkers of exposure, pathology, and disease risk and can provide critical insights into the biology of development and pathogenesis of disease. Thus, epigenetic alterations may aid in disease diagnosis and prognosis as well as in targeting new treatment and prevention strategies.