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Trends Genet. 2011 Mar;27(3):116-25. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2010.12.005. Epub 2011 Jan 21.

A twin approach to unraveling epigenetics.

Author information

  • 1Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology, King's College London, St. Thomas' Hospital, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7EH, UK. jordana@well.ox.ac.uk

Abstract

The regulation of gene expression plays a pivotal role in complex phenotypes, and epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation are essential to this process. The availability of next-generation sequencing technologies allows us to study epigenetic variation at an unprecedented level of resolution. Even so, our understanding of the underlying sources of epigenetic variability remains limited. Twin studies have played an essential role in estimating phenotypic heritability, and these now offer an opportunity to study epigenetic variation as a dynamic quantitative trait. High monozygotic twin discordance rates for common diseases suggest that unexplained environmental or epigenetic factors could be involved. Recent genome-wide epigenetic studies in disease-discordant monozygotic twins emphasize the power of this design to successfully identify epigenetic changes associated with complex traits. We describe how large-scale epigenetic studies of twins can improve our understanding of how genetic, environmental and stochastic factors impact upon epigenetics, and how such studies can provide a comprehensive understanding of how epigenetic variation affects complex traits.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

PMID:
21257220
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC3063335
Free PMC Article

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