Epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation, histone modification and microRNA control the accessibility of the genome and manage gene transcription in response to the environment in a heritable fashion. Recent evidence suggests that these mechanisms play a role in allergy and asthma.
Here, we give an overview on recent developments in the field of asthma and allergy epigenetics with a special focus on the role of DNA methylation in these diseases, where finally, first pilot studies investigating differences in methylation pattern in patients have been published. Although these studies have to be interpreted with caution, it seems that methylation is affected by environmental stimuli such as prenatal smoke exposure and farming environments, whereas asthma status is associated with change in methylation in early childhood.
Early stage data from population studies indicate a role of methylation differences in asthma and allergy, whereas the exact impact of these epigenetic mechanisms on disease development needs to be elucidated further.
aHannover Medical School, Department of Pediatric Pneumology, Allergy and Neonatology, Hannover, Member of the German Lung Research Center
bDepartment of Pediatric Pneumology and Allergy, KUNO University Children's Hospital Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany
Correspondence to Michael Kabesch, MD, KUNO University Children's Hospital Regensburg, Department of Pediatric Pneumology and Allergy, Campus St. Hedwig, Steinmetzstr. 1-3, D-93049 Regensburg, Germany. Tel: +49 941 369 5801; fax: +49 941 369 5802; e-mail: Michael.Kabesch@ukr.de