Extract from article by Cort Johnson:
Epigenetics refers to the changes in sites in our DNA that are susceptible to change over time which can modify the expression of our genes. Our genetic heritage, it turns out, only sets the tableau for how our genes express themselves. Just because you’re borne with a genetic makeup that suggests, say, your immune system will immediately jump on and take out any pathogen that dares disturb you, that doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way.
Epigenetics has provided an entirely new slant on genetics and gene expression. Things happen as you age that will change how your genes respond to events. Epigenetics isn’t so much an ‘if’ as it is a ‘how much’. These processes occur in our body all the time. The older we get the less we are our mother’s and father’s sons and daughters and the more our genetic makeup takes on an identity of its own.
Twin studies indicating identical twins are epigenetically indistinguishable at first but diverge widely over time indicate how malleable our patterns of gene expression are. How this change in gene expression over time occurs and the implications it has for health and disease is what epigenetics is all about. In a short time it’s become an enormous field. There’s no question epigenetic modifications play a role in disease – the only question is how much of a role.
A couple of years ago the National Institutes of Health was interested enough in the possible effects of epigenetic changes on aging, heart disease, and mental illness to devote 190 million dollars to its study. Some researchers think epigenetics will end up having a greater impact on disease than genetics.
Epigenetic modifications of immune genes have been implicated in autoimmune and other inflammatory diseases as well as neurodegenerative diseases. Researchers are now arguing which factor – genes, the environment, or epigenetics – plays the biggest role in autoimmunity. A recent review paper described probable epigenetic effects on neuroinflammation…
Cort goes on to discuss research findings for changes in gene expression in CFS (referring to Patrick McGowan’s research), FM and Rheumatic diseases, and the issues for future research: Epigenetics Study Highlights Immune Issues in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome