Clinical value of DNA methylation markers in autoimmune rheumatic diseases

Ballestar E; Sawalha AH; Lu Q.


Methylation of cytosine residues in DNA, the best studied epigenetic modification, is associated with gene transcription and nuclear organization, and ultimately the function of a cell. DNA methylation can be influenced by various factors, including changes in neighbouring genomic sites such as those induced by transcription factor binding. The DNA methylation profiles in relevant cell types are altered in most human diseases compared with the healthy state. Given the physical stability of DNA and methylated DNA compared with other epigenetic modifications, DNA methylation is an ideal marker for clinical purposes. However, few DNA methylation-based markers have made it into clinical practice, with the notable exception of some markers used in the field of oncology. Autoimmune rheumatic diseases are genetically complex entities that can vary widely in terms of prognosis, subtypes, progression and treatment responses. Increasing reports showing strong links between DNA methylation profiles and different clinical outcomes and other clinical aspects in autoimmune rheumatic diseases reinforce the usefulness of DNA methylation profiles as novel clinical markers. In this Review, we provide an updated discussion on DNA methylation alterations in autoimmune rheumatic diseases and the advantages and disadvantages of using these markers in clinical practice. The DNA methylation profile of various cells types are altered in autoimmune rheumatic diseases. Particular DNA methylation profiles are associated with the prognosis, subtype, progression and/or treatment responses of various rheumatic diseases and hence have potential as clinical biomarkers.

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