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Discov Med. 2011 Mar;11(58):233-43.

The multidimensional nature of epigenetic information and its role in disease.

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Department of Cell Biology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 1300 Morris Park Ave., Bronx, New York 10461, USA.


This year marks the 10th anniversary of the publications that reported the initial human genome sequence. In the historic press conference that announced this landmark accomplishment, it was proclaimed that the genome sequence would "revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases." However, subsequent work over the past decade has revealed that "complex diseases" are much more intricate than originally thought. Even with the advent of several new powerful technologies, our understanding of the underlying genetic etiologies of most complex and non-Mendelian diseases is far from complete. These results have raised the possibility that the DNA sequence, i.e., genetic information, may not be the only relevant source of information in order to understand the molecular basis of disease. In this review, we assemble evidence that information encoded beyond the DNA sequence, i.e., epigenetic information, may hold the key to a better understanding of various pathological conditions. Unlike the genetic information encoded within the DNA sequence, epigenetic information can be stored in multiple dimensions, such as in the form of DNA modifications, RNA, or protein. Ideas presented here support the view that to better understand the molecular etiology of diseases, we need to gain a better understanding of both the genetic and epigenetic components of biological information. We hence believe that the fast development of genome-wide technologies will facilitate a better understanding of both genetic and epigenetic dimensions of disease.

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