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Proc Nutr Soc. 2008 Nov;67(4):390-4. doi: 10.1017/S0029665108008744.

Session 2: Personalised nutrition. Epigenomics: a basis for understanding individual differences?

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Human Nutrition Research Centre, School of Clinical Medical Sciences, Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle University, Framlington Place, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4HH, UK.


Epigenetics encompasses changes to marks on the genome that are copied from one cell generation to the next, which may alter gene expression but which do not involve changes in the primary DNA sequence. These marks include DNA methylation (methylation of cytosines within CpG dinucleotides) and post-translational modifications (acetylation, methylation, phosphorylation and ubiquitination) of the histone tails protruding from nucleosome cores. The sum of genome-wide epigenetic patterns is known as the epigenome. It is hypothesised that altered epigenetic marking is a means through which evidence of environmental exposures (including nutritional status and dietary exposure) is received and recorded by the genome. At least some of these epigenetic marks are remembered through multiple cell generations and their effects may be revealed in altered gene expression and cell function. Altered epigenetic marking allows plasticity of phenotype in a fixed genotype. Despite their identical genotypes, monozygotic twins show increasing epigenetic diversity with age and with divergent lifestyles. Differences in epigenetic markings may explain some inter-individual variation in disease risk and in response to nutritional interventions.

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