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Epigenetics

Related Terms

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Background

  • Epigenetics is a field of biological research that focuses on changes to DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) or chromosomal proteins that affect the amount produced of a particular gene. The amount of a gene produced by a cell is referred to as the expression level. Whereas the field of genetics commonly focuses on how changes in the DNA sequence affect gene activity, epigenetics focuses on changes to the DNA that do not involve changes in the sequence.
  • DNA is located in a compartment of the cell called the nucleus and is packaged in structures called chromosomes. In addition to DNA, chromosomes also contain proteins, such as histones, which help package the DNA in an orderly way. DNA also contains four different chemical compounds called bases: cytosine, thymine, guanine, and adenine. In any given individual, these bases are found in a particular order along the chromosomes, and it is the order, or sequence, of these bases that stores information for making genes.
  • Chromosomes contain hundreds of genes, which provide the instructions for making proteins. Chromosomes also contain many other regulatory sequences that control how much of a gene will be made, when it will be made, and where in the body it will be made.
  • The level of gene expression can be regulated by cells through chemical modification of DNA or the histone proteins. By adding specific chemical groups to or removing them from the DNA or histone proteins, more or less of a gene can be produced. Several chemical groups, such as acetyl or methyl groups, that affect gene expression levels have been identified. These chemical groups recruit other proteins that are able to regulate the expression of genes. Either the amount of a specific chemical modification or the location on the DNA sequence or chromosome where the modification is made can influence the level of gene expression.
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Methods

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Research

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Implications

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Limitations

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Safety

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Future Research

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Author Information

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References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.