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Discov Med. 2011 Dec;12(67):535-45.

Environmental triggers and epigenetic deregulation in autoimmune disease.

Author information

1
Chromatin and Disease Group, Cancer Epigenetics and Biology Programme (PEBC), Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Barcelona, Spain.

Abstract

The study of epigenetic mechanisms in the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases is receiving unprecedented attention from clinicians and researchers in the field. Autoimmune disorders comprise a wide range of genetically complex diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. Together they affect a significant proportion of the population and have a great economic impact on public health systems. Epigenetic mechanisms control gene expression and are influenced by external stimuli, linking environment and gene function. A variety of environmental agents, such as viral infection, hormones, certain drugs, and pollutants, have been found to influence the development of autoimmune diseases. On the other hand, there is considerable evidence of epigenetic changes, particularly DNA methylation alterations, in diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, or multiple sclerosis. However, the gap in our understanding between the specific effects of external agents and the influence on epigenetic profiles has not yet been filled. Here we review a number of studies describing epigenetic alterations in autoimmune diseases and a range of environmental factors that influence the development of autoimmune diseases. We also discuss potential mechanisms linking environment and epigenetics, consider the prospects for future epigenetic studies addressing the relationship between environment and epigenetics, and comment on the use of drugs with an epigenetic-reversing effect in the clinical management of these diseases.

PMID:
22204770
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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