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Epigenetic Regulation of Gene Expression in Cancer: Techniques, Resources, and Analysis

By Luciane T Kagohara, Genevieve L. Stein-O’Brien, Dylan Kelley, Emily Flam, Heather C Wick, Ludmila Danilova, Hariharan Easwaran, Alexander V Favorov, Jiang Qian, Daria A Gaykalova, Elana J. Fertig

Posted 08 Mar 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/114025 (published DOI: 10.1093/bfgp/elx018)

Cancer is a complex disease, driven by aberrant activity in numerous signaling pathways in even individual malignant cells. Epigenetic changes are critical mediators of these functional changes that drive and maintain the malignant phenotype. Changes in DNA methylation, histone acetylation and methylation, non-coding RNAs, post-translational modifications are all epigenetic drivers in cancer, independent of changes in the DNA sequence. These epigenetic alterations, once thought to be crucial only for the malignant phenotype maintenance, are now recognized as critical also for disrupting essential pathways that protect the cells from uncontrolled growth, longer survival and establishment in distant sites from the original tissue. In this review, we focus on DNA methylation and chromatin structure in cancer. While associated with cancer, the precise functional role of these alterations is an area of active research using emerging high-throughput approaches and bioinformatics analysis tools. Therefore, this review describes these high-throughput measurement technologies, public domain databases for high-throughput epigenetic data in tumors and model systems, and bioinformatics algorithms for their analysis. Advances in bioinformatics data integration techniques that combine these epigenetic data with genomics data are essential to infer the function of specific epigenetic alterations in cancer, and are therefore also a focus of this review. Future studies using these emerging technologies will elucidate how alterations in the cancer epigenome cooperate with genetic aberrations to cause tumorigenesis initiation and progression. This deeper understanding is essential to future studies that will precisely infer patients prognosis and select patients who will be responsive to emerging epigenetic therapies.

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