Thursday, May 7, 2009


Sometimes an illness occurs because of a straightforward gene mutation. But sometimes illnesses occur because of changes in the functioning, or expression, of the genome.

The study of the control of the functioning of genetic material is called epigenetics.

These changes in gene expression are caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence. They often involve methylation or demethylation of specific proteins, such as “histones,” which are responsible influencing the expression of genes. The gene may produce more or less protein than normal which, in turn, can affect physical and behavioral traits.

These changes can be passed along with the transfer of the actual genetic material to generations of cells as they multiply, and even be passed on to subsequent generations of people (our children and grandchildren).

Epigenetics is how the same set of DNA can cause some cells to become liver tissue and others to become heart muscle and still others to become brain. The DNA is the same in each organ, but which genes get activated is vastly different in each.

Literally, “EPIGENETICS” describes traits that exist “on top of” or “in addition to” the traditional molecular basis for inheritance.

What this has to do with many illnesses, including those affecting brain function, is that it opens the door to understanding, which in turn leads to a broader range of targets for treatment.

Within epigenetic treatment—the possibility of reversing pathological changes—lies the hope, someday, for cures of some disorders which are now incurable.

We now know a multitude of factors affect epigenomic functioning—starting before the baby is even born, continuing with hormonal “switches” during childbirth, chemical insults while maturing, stresses encountered, nutritional factors, and more.

This is exciting news for people with complex illnesses in which a multitude of genes are involved, but no one specific gene can be to blame. Some genetic variants can place us at hugely increased risk for an illness, but some outside factor – an epigenetic factor – triggers the aberrant function.

Thus identical twins can both be at greater genetic risk for an illness yet only one may develop it. Perhaps the one that does had less nutrition than the other en-utero, less oxygen during birth, was more picky about food, more sensitive to the environment, the mitochondria distribution was different from the other. Whatever it was, the result is their genetic expressions ultimately differed and one may succumb at an early age while the other is unaffected.

Epigenetics may become the master key in the understanding of many major illnesses involving psychosis and mood dysregulation. It is considered to be a "third wave" in psychiatric research with the potential to bridge and unify the first two areas of study—the traditional genetic and environmental studies.

Epigenomic research is leading to better understanding of the regulatory changes in genes and genomes occurring in major complex illnesses such as some involving psychosis. It is unveiling the mysteries behind why the same gene sequence may predispose one individual to schizophrenia yet another to bipolar disorder, yet leave another unaffected. It may shed light on the molecular mechanisms of how hazardous environmental factors interact with the genome.

Results from this area of research may lead to new diagnostics and more effective therapies.

Developmental Epigenetics” studies epigenetic modifications in children—the epigenetic mechanisms determining which genes in the symphony of life get played and which remain silent at any particular moment—and how these mechanisms interact with the environment to affect their health.

The goal of developmental epigenetics is to help prevent, monitor and treat childhood and adolescent diseases ranging from premature birth to autism, from Tourette syndrome to persistent depression, and from cancer to schizophrenia.

Here is some interesting research and reading pertaining to epigenetics and Illness:

Related Reading:
Genetics and Epigenetics:

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Last Updated:
16 November 2011


Herb said...

Epigenetics may explain why nutrition is so important in treating these disorders. Indeed, it may put to rest another misunderstanding about our bodies: "It Ain't All Genetic"

misahasavva said...

The epigenetic (biofield) control system of the organism is much more complex than cellular biologists can imagine. See my introductory article in our book "LIFE and MIND - in Search of the Physical Basis" Trafford/Misaha, 2007, that is available at - book.

Savely Savva,