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Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Mar;108(3):271-8.

Genomic imprinting and environmental disease susceptibility.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, USA.


Genomic imprinting is one of the most intriguing subtleties of modern genetics. The term "imprinting" refers to parent-of-origin-dependent gene expression. The presence of imprinted genes can cause cells with a full parental complement of functional autosomal genes to specifically express one allele but not the other, resulting in monoallelic expression of the imprinted loci. Genomic imprinting plays a critical role in fetal growth and behavioral development, and it is regulated by DNA methylation and chromatin structure. This paper summarizes the Genomic Imprinting and Environmental Disease Susceptibility Conference held 8-10 October 1998 at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. The conference focused on the importance of genomic imprinting in determining susceptibility to environmentally induced diseases. Conference topics included rationales for imprinting: parental antagonism and speciation; methods for imprinted gene identification: allelic message display and monochromosomal mouse/human hybrids; properties of the imprinted gene cluster human 11p15.5 and mouse distal 7; the epigenetics of X-chromosome inactivation; variability in imprinting: imprint erasure, non-Mendelian inheritance ratios, and polymorphic imprinting; imprinting and behavior: genetics of bipolar disorder, imprinting in Turner syndrome, and imprinting in brain development and social behavior; and aberrant methylation: methylation and chromatin structure, methylation and estrogen exposure, methylation of tumor-suppressor genes, and cancer susceptibility. Environmental factors are capable of causing epigenetic changes in DNA that can potentially alter imprint gene expression and that can result in genetic diseases including cancer and behavioral disorders. Understanding the contribution of imprinting to the regulation of gene expression will be an important step in evaluating environmental influences on human health and disease.

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