JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Complex disease, gender and epigenetics

Zachary Kaminsky, Sun-Chong Wang, Arturas Petronis
Annals of Medicine 2006, 38 (8): 530-44
17438668
Gender differences in susceptibility to complex disease such as asthma, diabetes, lupus, autism and major depression, among numerous other disorders, represent one of the hallmarks of non-Mendelian biology. It has been generally accepted that endocrinological differences are involved in the sexual dimorphism of complex disease; however, specific molecular mechanisms of such hormonal effects have not been elucidated yet. This paper will review evidence that sex hormone action may be mediated via gene-specific epigenetic modifications of DNA and histones. The epigenetic modifications can explain sex effects at DNA sequence polymorphisms and haplotypes identified in gender-stratified genetic linkage and association studies. Hormone-induced DNA methylation and histone modification changes at specific gene regulatory regions may increase or reduce the risk of a disease. The epigenetic interpretation of sexual dimorphism fits well into the epigenetic theory of complex disease, which argues for the primary pathogenic role of inherited and/or acquired epigenetic misregulation rather than DNA sequence variation. The new experimental strategies, especially the high throughput microarray-based epigenetic profiling, can be used for testing the epigenetic hypothesis of gender effects in complex diseases.

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