Purpose of review: Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression that occur without direct changes in the DNA sequence. Epigenetic mechanisms may explain important observations in asthma, such as the effect of the environment during certain periods in life, transgenerational, and maternal effects and account for some of the missing heritability in asthma. Here, we review recent evidence for the role of epigenetics and genomics in asthma.
Recent findings: Environmental factors known to increase asthma risk affect methylation patterns in the genome, yet the link to subsequent asthma development is not yet established. Posttranslational histone modifications and chromatin remodeling are important in establishing T-helper-2 cell differentiation. MicroRNAs have been shown to regulate experimental asthma in mice. Integration of genomic methods leads to increased understanding on how variation at the DNA levels affects mRNA transcription or chromatin remodeling.
Summary: Epigenetic mechanisms regulate gene expression at the DNA, mRNA, and the chromatin level and more studies are needed to establish its role in human asthma. Integration of genomic methods will provide more insight into the complex pathophysiology of asthma.