Epigenetics is the study of potentially heritable changes in gene expression that does not involve changes in the underlying DNA sequence. In other words, a change taking place in the phenotype without a change in the genotype. Epigenetic alterations are very common and their occurrence is a natural phenomenon. However, different factors such as age, disease, lifestyle and environment can affect their occurrence.
The field of epigenetics is fast expanding and with it the understanding that both the environment and individual lifestyle directly interact with the genome to influence epigenetic alterations. These changes may be reflected at various stages throughout a person’s life and even in later generations.
The current interest in epigenetics has opened many avenues for research to understand the association between epigenetic alterations and a variety of diseases such as cancer, mental disorders, immune disorders (including autoimmune diseases) and congenital disorders. Currently, it is thought that epigenetic modifications occur through three different mechanisms, i.e., DNA methylation, histone modification and different types of non-coding RNA.
The TransGeno ERA chair lab in Tartu is seeking to understand how epigenetic cues can affect cellular function in health and disease. Our efforts are directed towards epithelial tissue and how the function of these tissues in skin and reproductive organs are affected by epigenetic mechanisms. For example, to understand how non-coding RNA and in particular MicroRNA regulate skin and reproductive functions in health and disease.
The other important subject of research in the TransGeno ERA chair laboratory is to explore and further understand the concept of Epigenetics, Innate Immunity and Intercellular Communication interactions together and the use of this knowledge to create diagnostic tools for further improvement and translation of our findings from the lab to the patient bedside.