Genetic mutations are not the only way to alter gene expression. Epigenetic processes can also alter gene activity without changing the DNA sequence. It controls how the DNA is read by cells and determines which genes are switched on or off. Epigenetic modifications include a variety of mechanisms that “mark” DNA or histones such as methylation, acetylation, or phosphorylation that result in a remodeling of chromatin that ultimately lead to changes in gene expression.
Epigenetics has emerged as a critical target in treating cancers. Because errors in the epigenetic process can lead to abnormal gene activity, its deregulation can trigger malignant transformation and ultimately drive tumorigenesis and cancer progression. Being able to reverse these alterations with epigenetic therapies has far-reaching implications for cancer prevention and treatment.