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Epigenomics. 2012 Aug;4(4):445-57. doi: 10.2217/epi.12.37.

Sensitive periods in epigenetics: bringing us closer to complex behavioral phenotypes.

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McGill Group for Suicide Studies, Douglas Hospital University Institute, 6875 Lasalle boul, Montreal, QC, Canada.


Genetic studies have attempted to elucidate causal mechanisms for the development of complex disease, but genome-wide associations have been largely unsuccessful in establishing these links. As an alternative link between genes and disease, recent efforts have focused on mechanisms that alter the function of genes without altering the underlying DNA sequence. Known as epigenetic mechanisms, these include DNA methylation, chromatin conformational changes through histone modifications, ncRNAs and, most recently, 5-hydroxymethylcytosine. Although DNA methylation is involved in normal development, aging and gene regulation, altered methylation patterns have been associated with disease. It is generally believed that early life constitutes a period during which there is increased sensitivity to the regulatory effects of epigenetic mechanisms. The purpose of this review is to outline the contribution of epigenetic mechanisms to genomic function, particularly in the development of complex behavioral phenotypes, focusing on the sensitive periods.

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