For a long time, scientists considered genotoxic effects as the major issue concerning the influence of environmental chemicals on human health. Over the last decades, a new layer superimposed the genome, i.e., the epigenome, tremendously changing this point of view. The term "epigenetics" comprises stable alterations in gene expression potential arising from variations in DNA methylation and a variety of histone modifications, without changing the underlying DNA sequence. Recently, also gene silencing by small noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs), in particular by microRNAs, was included in the list of epigenetic mechanisms. Multiple studies in vivo as well as in vitro have shown that a multitude of different environmental factors are capable of changing the epigenetic pattern as well as miRNA expression in certain cell types, leading to aberrant gene expression profiles in cells and tissues. These changes may have extensive effects concerning the proper gene expression necessary in a specified cell type and can even lead into a state of disease. Especially the roles of epigenetic modifications and miRNA alterations in tumorigenesis have been a major focus in research over the last years. This chapter will give an overview on epigenetic features and on the spectrum of epigenetic changes observed after exposure against environmental chemicals and pollutants.
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