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PLoS One. 2008 Jun 4;3(6):e2290. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002290.

Epigenetic regulation of the mammalian cell.

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Department of Environmental Science, University of Kuopio, Kuopio, Finland.



Understanding how mammalian cells are regulated epigenetically to express phenotype is a priority. The cellular phenotypic transition, induced by ionising radiation, from a normal cell to the genomic instability phenotype, where the ability to replicate the genotype accurately is compromised, illustrates important features of epigenetic regulation. Based on this phenomenon and earlier work we propose a model to describe the mammalian cell as a self assembled open system operating in an environment that includes its genotype, neighbouring cells and beyond. Phenotype is represented by high dimensional attractors, evolutionarily conditioned for stability and robustness and contingent on rules of engagement between gene products encoded in the genetic network.


We describe how this system functions and note the indeterminacy and fluidity of its internal workings which place it in the logical reasoning framework of predicative logic. We find that the hypothesis is supported by evidence from cell and molecular biology.


Epigenetic regulation and memory are fundamentally physical, as opposed to chemical, processes and the transition to genomic instability is an important feature of mammalian cells with probable fundamental relevance to speciation and carcinogenesis. A source of evolutionarily selectable variation, in terms of the rules of engagement between gene products, is seen as more likely to have greater prominence than genetic variation in an evolutionary context. As this epigenetic variation is based on attractor states phenotypic changes are not gradual; a phenotypic transition can involve the changed contribution of several gene products in a single step.

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