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Environmental exposures, epigenetics and cardiovascular disease

Baccarelli, Andreaa,b; Ghosh, Sanjuktac

Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care: July 2012 - Volume 15 - Issue 4 - p 323–329
doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328354bf5c
GENES AND CELL METABOLISM: Edited by Nada Abumrad and Alessandro Doria

Purpose of review Epigenetic modifications are heritable alterations of the genome, which can govern gene expression without altering the DNA sequence. The purpose of this review is to render an overview of the possible mechanisms of epigenetic regulation of gene expression in response to environmental pollutants leading to cardiovascular diseases (CVD).

Recent findings An era of cataloging epigenetic marks of the various diseased states has recently commenced, including those within the genes responsible for atherosclerosis, ischemia, hypertension and heart failure. From varied study approaches directed either toward the general understanding of the key pathway regulatory genes, or sampling population cohorts for global and gene-specific changes, it has been possible to identify several epigenetic signatures of environmental exposure relevant to CVD. Signatures of epigenetic dysregulation can be detected in peripheral blood samples, even within a few hours of environmental exposure. However, the field now faces the demand for thorough, systematic, rationalized approaches to establish the relation of exposure-driven epigenetic changes to clinical outcomes, by using sophisticated and reliable research designs and tools.

Summary An understanding of chromatin remodelling in response to environmental stimuli conducive to CVD is emerging, with the promise of novel diagnostic and therapeutic candidates.

aDepartment of Environmental Health

bDepartment of Epidemiology

cMolecular and Integrative Physiological Sciences, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Correspondence to Andrea Baccarelli, Mark and Catherine Winkler Associate Professor of Environmental Epigenetics, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, 401 Park Drive, Landmark Center, Room 415E, Boston, MA 02215, USA. Tel: +1 617 384 8742; fax: +1 617 384 8859; e-mail:

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.