Epigenetic changes are heritable modifications that do not involve alterations in the primary DNA sequence. They regulate crucial cellular functions such as genome stability, X-chromosome inactivation, and gene imprinting. Epidemiological and experimental observations now suggest that such changes may also explain the fetal basis of adult diseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, neurological diseases, and behavioral modifications. The main molecular events known to initiate and sustain epigenetic modifications are histone modification and DNA methylation. This review specifically focuses on existing and emerging technologies used in studying DNA methylation, which occurs primarily at CpG dinucleotides in the genome. These include standard exploratory tools used for global profiling of DNA methylation and targeted gene investigation: methylation sensitive restriction fingerprinting (MSRF), restriction landmark genomic scanning (RLGS), methylation CpG island amplification-representational difference analysis (MCA-RDA), differential methylation hybridization (DMH), and cDNA microarrays combined with treatment with demethylating agents and inhibitors of histone deacetylase. The basic operating principals, resource requirements, applications, and benefits and limitations of each methodology are discussed. Validation methodologies and functional assays needed to establish the role of a CpG-rich sequence in regulating the expression of a target or candidate gene are outlined. These include in silico database searches, methylation status studies (bisulfite genomic sequencing, COBRA, MS-PCR, MS-SSCP), gene expression studies, and promoter activity analyses. Our intention is to give readers a starting point for choosing methodologies and to suggest a workflow to follow during their investigations. We believe studies of epigenetic changes such as DNA methylation hold great promise in understanding the early origins of adult diseases and in advancing their diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.
- Chromatin remodeling
- Cytosine methylation
- Fetal-based adult disease
- Genome-wide methylation profiling
- Methylation sensitive restriction fingerprinting
- Restriction landmark genomic scanning (RLGS)
ASJC Scopus subject areas