Epigenetics is a large and diverse field encompassing a number of different mechanisms essential to development, DNA stability and gene expression. DNA methylation and histone modifications work individually and in conjunction with each other leading to phenotypic changes. An overwhelming amount of evidence exists demonstrating the essential nature of epigenetics to human biology and pathology. This field has spawned a vast array of knowledge, techniques and pharmaceuticals designed to investigate and manipulate epigenetic phenomena. Despite its centricity to molecular biology, little work has been conducted examining how epigenetics affects hearing. In this review, we discuss both the basic tenants of epigenetics and highlight the most recent advances in this field. We discuss its importance to human development, genomic stability, gene expression, epigenetic modifying agents as well as briefly introduce the expansive field of cancer epigenetics. We then examine the evidence of a role for epigenetics in hearing related processes and hearing loss. The article concludes with a discussion of areas of epigenetic research that could be applied to hearing research.
Presbycusis; Hair Cells; Organ of Corti; DNA Methylation; Histone Modifications; Deafness
Epigenetics is focused on understanding the control of gene expression beyond what is encoded in the sequence of DNA. Central to growing interest in the field is the hope that more can be learned about the epigenetic regulatory mechanisms underlying processes of human development and disease. Researchers have begun to examine epigenetic alterations – such as changes in promoter DNA methylation, genomic imprinting, and expression of miRNA – to learn more about epigenetic regulation in the placenta, an organ whose proper development and function are crucial to the health growth and survival of the developing fetus. A number of studies are now making important links between alterations to appropriate epigenetic regulation in the placenta and diseases of gestation and early life. In addition, these studies are adding important insight into our understanding of trophoblast biology and differentiation as well as placental immunology. Examining epigenetic alterations in the placenta will prove especially important in the search for biomarkers of exposure, pathology, and disease risk and can provide critical insights into the biology of development and pathogenesis of disease. Thus, epigenetic alterations may aid in disease diagnosis and prognosis as well as in targeting new treatment and prevention strategies.
DNA methylation; environmental exposure; miRNA; imprinting
Epigenetics refers to the collective heritable changes in phenotype that arise independent of genotype. Two broad areas of epigenetics are DNA methylation and histone modifications and numerous techniques have been invented to analyze epigenetic processes not only at the level of specific genes, but also to analyze epigenetic changes that occur in defined regions of the genome as well as genome-wide. Advances have also been made in techniques devised to assess the enzymes that mediate epigenetic processes. These methods that are currently driving the field of epigenetics will greatly facilitate continued expansion of this exponentially growing discipline of genetics.
Epigenetics; DNA methylation; chromatin; methods; histone; technique
In this Introduction to the Named Series “Epigenetics, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity” an overview of epigenetics is provided with a consideration of the nature of epigenetic regulation including DNA methylation, histone modification and chromatin remodeling. Illustrative examples of recent scientific developments are highlighted to demonstrate the influence of epigenetics in areas of research relevant to those who investigate phenomena within the scientific discipline of psychoneuroimmunology. These examples are presented in order to provide a perspective on how epigenetic analysis will add insight into the molecular processes that connect the brain with behavior, neuroendocrine responsivity and immune outcome.
Epigenetics; Chromatin; Stress Responsivity; Behavior; Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis
The study of epigenetics has experienced exponential growth in the past 15 years and continues to be a major focus of study across biological disciplines. A new reference text Epigenetics: A Reference Manual, published by Caister Academic Press and edited by Jeffrey M. Craig and Nicholas C. Wong (Developmental Epigenetics Group, Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Victoria, Australia), presents a current and comprehensive look into the many facets of epigenetics research. The information targets a wide scientific audience and accommodates the expectations of both the novice and expert alike. Scientists with an inquisitive interest in epigenetics will appreciate the thorough description of epigenetic mechanisms with little a priori knowledge required. Scientists working in the field will find the current techniques, description of the technologies and resource tools valuable. With an ever evolving and expanding research field, the established epigenetic investigator will appreciate a centralized tome containing reviews across epigenetic mechanism and model system.
epigenetic inheritance; epigenetic memory; DNA methylation; histone modification; RNA modification; telomeres; epigenetic bioinformatics
Increased understanding about the functional complexity of the genome has led to growing recognition about the role of epigenetic variation in the etiology of schizophrenia. Epigenetic processes act to dynamically control gene expression independently of DNA sequence variation and are known to regulate key neurobiological and cognitive processes in the brain. To date, our knowledge about the role of epigenetic processes in schizophrenia is limited and based on analyses of small numbers of samples obtained from a range of different cell and tissue types. Moving forward, it will be important to establish cause and effect in epigenetic studies of schizophrenia and broaden our horizons beyond DNA methylation. Rather than investigating genetic and epigenetic factors independently, an integrative etiological research paradigm based on the combination of genomic, transcriptomic, and epigenomic analyses is required.
schizophrenia; epigenetics; DNA methylation; genetics; epidemiology
Individuals vary in their sociosexual behaviors and reactivity. How the organism interacts with the environment to produce this variation has been a focus in psychology since its inception as a scientific discipline. There is now no question that cumulative experiences throughout life history interact with genetic predispositions to shape the individual’s behavior. Recent evidence suggests that events in past generations may also influence how an individual responds to events in their own life history. Epigenetics is the study of how the environment can affect the genome of the individual during its development as well as the development of its descendants, all without changing the DNA sequence. Several distinctions must be made if this research is to become a staple in behavioral neuroendocrinology. The first distinction concerns perspective, and the need to distinguish and appreciate, the differences between Molecular versus Molar epigenetics. Each has its own lineage of investigation, yet both appear to be unaware of one another. Second, it is important to distinguish the difference between Context-Dependent versus Germline-Dependent epigenetic modifications. In essence the difference is one of the mechanism of heritability or transmission within, as apposed to across, generations. This review illustrates these distinctions while describing several rodent models that have shown particular promise for unraveling the contribution of genetics and the environment on sociosexual behavior. The first focuses on genetically-modified mice and makes the point that the early litter environment alters subsequent brain activity and behavior. This work emphasizes the need to understand behavioral development when doing research with such animals. The second focuses on a new rat model in which the epigenome is permanently imprinted, an effect that crosses generations to impact the descendants without further exposure to the precipitating agent. This work raises the question of how events in generations past can have consequences at both the mechanistic, behavioral, and ultimately evolutionary levels.
Development; Genetically-modified mice; Knockout; Imprinting; Molar epigenetics; Context-Dependent epigenetic modification; Germline-Dependent epigenetic modification; Neural network; Cytochrome oxidase
As a biological discipline, zoology has one of the longest histories. Today it occasionally appears as though, due to the rapid expansion of life sciences, zoology has been replaced by more or less independent sub-disciplines amongst which exchange is often sparse. However, the recent advance of molecular methodology into "classical" fields of biology, and the development of theories that can explain phenomena on different levels of organisation, has led to a re-integration of zoological disciplines promoting a broader than usual approach to zoological questions. Zoology has re-emerged as an integrative discipline encompassing the most diverse aspects of animal life, from the level of the gene to the level of the ecosystem.
The new journal Frontiers in Zoology is the first Open Access journal focussing on zoology as a whole. It aims to represent and re-unite the various disciplines that look at animal life from different perspectives and at providing the basis for a comprehensive understanding of zoological phenomena on all levels of analysis. Frontiers in Zoology provides a unique opportunity to publish high quality research and reviews on zoological issues that will be internationally accessible to any reader at no cost.
► Epigenetic control is involved in stress signaling and stress responses. ► Stress can modify epigenetic regulation at many different levels. ► Epigenetic and genetic components of stress responses are connected. ► Epigenetic diversity might be an important factor in stress adaptation and evolution.
Stressful conditions for plants can originate from numerous physical, chemical and biological factors, and plants have developed a plethora of survival strategies including developmental and morphological adaptations, specific signaling and defense pathways as well as innate and acquired immunity. While it has become clear in recent years that many stress responses involve epigenetic components, we are far from understanding the mechanisms and molecular interactions. Extending our knowledge is fundamental, not least for plant breeding and conservation biology. This review will highlight recent insights into epigenetic stress responses at the level of signaling, chromatin modification, and potentially heritable consequences.
Cancer is a complex disease that involves a sequence of gene-environment interactions in a progressive process that cannot occur without dysfunction in multiple systems, including DNA repair, apoptotic and immune functions. Epigenetic mechanisms, responding to numerous internal and external cues in a dynamic ongoing exchange, play a key role in mediating environmental influences on gene expression and tumor development.
The hypothesis put forth in this paper addresses the limited success of treatment outcomes in clinical oncology. It states that improvement in treatment efficacy requires a new paradigm that focuses on reversing systemic dysfunction and tailoring treatments to specific stages in the process. It requires moving from a reductionist framework of seeking to destroy aberrant cells and pathways to a transdisciplinary systems biology approach aimed at reversing multiple levels of dysfunction.
Because there are many biological pathways and multiple epigenetic influences working simultaneously in the expression of cancer phenotypes, studying individual components in isolation does not allow an adequate understanding of phenotypic expression. A systems biology approach using new modeling techniques and nonlinear mathematics is needed to investigate gene-environment interactions and improve treatment efficacy. A broader array of study designs will also be required, including prospective molecular epidemiology, immune competent animal models and in vitro/in vivo translational research that more accurately reflects the complex process of tumor initiation and progression.
Recent advances in genomic technologies now enable a reunion of molecular and evolutionary biology. Researchers investigating naturally living animal populations are thus increasingly able to capitalize upon genomic technologies to connect molecular findings with multiple levels of biological organization. Using this vertical approach in the laboratory, epigenetic gene regulation has emerged as an important mechanism integrating genotype and phenotype. To connect phenotype to population fitness, however, this same vertical approach must now be applied to naturally living populations. A major obstacle to studying epigenetics in noninvasive samples is tissue specificity of epigenetic marks. Here, using the mouse as a proof-of-principle model, we present the first known attempt to validate an epigenetic assay for use in noninvasive samples. Specifically, we compare DNA methylation of the NGFI-A (nerve growth factor-inducible protein A) binding site in the promoter of the glucocorticoid receptor (Nr3c1) gene between central (hippocampal) and peripheral noninvasive (fecal) tissues in juvenile Balb/c mice that had received varying levels of postnatal maternal care. Our results indicate that while hippocampal DNA methylation profiles correspond to maternal behavior, fecal DNA methylation levels do not. Moreover, concordance in methylation levels between these tissues within individuals only emerges after accounting for the effects of postnatal maternal care. Thus, although these findings may be specific to the Nr3c1 gene, we urge caution when interpreting DNA methylation patterns from noninvasive tissues, and offer suggestions for further research in this field.
DNA methylation; fecal samples; glucocorticoid receptor; maternal behavior; mouse
Although both nutrition and chemicals are important environmental factors modulating epigenetic changes, they are commonly studied separately by researchers in different fields. However, these two environmental factors cannot be separated from each other in the real world because a number of chemical agents contaminate food chains.
We propose a unifying mechanism that can link epigenetic alterations in relation to DNA hypomethylation due to chemical agents and to nutrient deficiency or imbalance, emphasizing the importance of an integrative approach in the field of environmental epidemiology.
Methyl groups from S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) are needed for DNA methylation. Diets low in sources of methyl groups can lead to global DNA hypomethylation by impairing synthesis of SAM. However, even without nutritional deficiency, enhanced need to synthesize glutathi-one (GSH) can impair synthesis of SAM and perturb DNA methylation, because the methylation cycle and the GSH synthesis pathways are biochemically linked. Exposure to environmental chemicals is a common situation in which the need for GSH synthesis is enhanced, because GSH is consumed to conjugate diverse chemicals. Given that GSH conjugation happens at any chemical dose, this hypothesis is relevant even at exposures below the high doses that cause toxicologic responses.
At present, general populations are exposed to a large number of chemicals, each at a very low dose. Thus, DNA hypomethylation due to chemical exposure may be common in modern societies and can synergistically interact with nutrition-induced DNA hypomethylation.
chemicals; DNA hypomethylation; epigenetics; glutathione; nutrient; persistent organic pollutants
Personalised medicine provides patients with treatments that are specific to their genetic profiles. It requires efficient data sharing of disparate data types across a variety of scientific disciplines, such as molecular biology, pathology, radiology and clinical practice. Personalised medicine aims to offer the safest and most effective therapeutic strategy based on the gene variations of each subject. In particular, this is valid in oncology, where knowledge about genetic mutations has already led to new therapies. Current molecular biology techniques (microarrays, proteomics, epigenetic technology and improved DNA sequencing technology) enable better characterisation of cancer tumours. The vast amounts of data, however, coupled with the use of different terms - or semantic heterogeneity - in each discipline makes the retrieval and integration of information difficult.
Existing software infrastructures for data-sharing in the cancer domain, such as caGrid, support access to distributed information. caGrid follows a service-oriented model-driven architecture. Each data source in caGrid is associated with metadata at increasing levels of abstraction, including syntactic, structural, reference and domain metadata. The domain metadata consists of ontology-based annotations associated with the structural information of each data source. However, caGrid's current querying functionality is given at the structural metadata level, without capitalising on the ontology-based annotations. This paper presents the design of and theoretical foundations for distributed ontology-based queries over cancer research data. Concept-based queries are reformulated to the target query language, where join conditions between multiple data sources are found by exploiting the semantic annotations. The system has been implemented, as a proof of concept, over the caGrid infrastructure. The approach is applicable to other model-driven architectures. A graphical user interface has been developed, supporting ontology-based queries over caGrid data sources. An extensive evaluation of the query reformulation technique is included.
To support personalised medicine in oncology, it is crucial to retrieve and integrate molecular, pathology, radiology and clinical data in an efficient manner. The semantic heterogeneity of the data makes this a challenging task. Ontologies provide a formal framework to support querying and integration. This paper provides an ontology-based solution for querying distributed databases over service-oriented, model-driven infrastructures.
As opposed to genetics, dealing with gene expressions by direct DNA sequence modifications, the term epigenetics applies to all the external influences that target the chromatin structure of cells with impact on gene expression unrelated to the sequence coding of DNA itself. In normal cells, epigenetics modulates gene expression through all development steps. When “imprinted” early by the environment, epigenetic changes influence the organism at an early stage and can be transmitted to the progeny. Together with DNA sequence alterations, DNA aberrant cytosine methylation and microRNA deregulation, epigenetic modifications participate in the malignant transformation of cells. Their reversible nature has led to the emergence of the promising field of epigenetic therapy. The efforts made to inhibit in particular the epigenetic enzyme family called histone deacetylases (HDACs) are described. HDAC inhibitors (HDACi) have been proposed as a viable clinical therapeutic approach for the treatment of leukemia and solid tumors, but also to a lesser degree for noncancerous diseases. Three epigenetic drugs are already arriving at the patient’s bedside, and more than 100 clinical assays for HDACi are registered on the National Cancer Institute website. They explore the eventual additive benefits of combined therapies. In the context of the pleiotropic effects of HDAC isoforms, more specific HDACi and more informative screening tests are being developed for the benefit of the patients.
histone deacetylase inhibitors; epigenetic; clinical trials interpretation
Human activity has a profound effect on the global environment and caused frequent occurrence of climatic fluctuations. To survive, plants need to adapt to the changing environmental conditions through altering their morphological and physiological traits. One known mechanism for phenotypic innovation to be achieved is environment-induced rapid yet inheritable epigenetic changes. Therefore, the use of molecular techniques to address the epigenetic mechanisms underpinning stress adaptation in plants is an important and challenging topic in biological research. In this study, we investigated the impact of warming, nitrogen (N) addition, and warming+nitrogen (N) addition stresses on the cytosine methylation status of Leymus chinensis Tzvel. at the population level by using the amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP), methylation-sensitive amplified polymorphism (MSAP) and retrotransposon based sequence-specific amplification polymorphism (SSAP) techniques.
Our results showed that, although the percentages of cytosine methylation changes in SSAP are significantly higher than those in MSAP, all the treatment groups showed similar alteration patterns of hypermethylation and hypomethylation. It meant that the abiotic stresses have induced the alterations in cytosine methylation patterns, and the levels of cytosine methylation changes around the transposable element are higher than the other genomic regions. In addition, the identification and analysis of differentially methylated loci (DML) indicated that the abiotic stresses have also caused targeted methylation changes at specific loci and these DML might have contributed to the capability of plants in adaptation to the abiotic stresses.
Our results demonstrated that abiotic stresses related to global warming and nitrogen deposition readily evoke alterations of cytosine methylation, and which may provide a molecular basis for rapid adaptation by the affected plant populations to the changed environments.
The perspective presented here is that modern genetics is at a similar stage of development as were early formulations of quantum mechanics theory in the 1920s and that in 2010 we are at the dawn of a new revolution in genetics that promises to enrich and deepen our understanding of the gene and the genome. The interrelationships and interdependence of two views of the gene – the molecular biological view and the epigenetic view – are explored, and it is argued that the classical molecular biological view is incomplete without incorporation of the epigenetic perspective and that in a sense the molecular biological view has been evolving to include the epigenetic view. Intriguingly, this evolution of the molecular view toward the broader and more inclusive epigenetic view of the gene has an intriguing, if not precise, parallel in the evolution of concepts of atomic physics from Newtonian mechanics to quantum mechanics that are interesting to consider.
aperiodic crystal; paragenetics; parachromatin; transgenerational inheritance; histone code
The skill set required of biomedical researchers continues to grow and evolve as biology matures as a natural science. Science necessitates creative yet critical thinking, persuasive communication skills, purposeful use of time, and adeptness at the laboratory bench. Teaching these skills can be effectively accomplished in an inquiry-based, active-learning environment at a primarily undergraduate institution. Cell Biology Techniques, an upper-level cell biology laboratory course at St. John Fisher College, features two independent projects that take advantage of the biology of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, a premier yet simple model organism. First, students perform a miniature epigenetic screen for novel phenotypes using RNA interference. The results of this screen combined with literature research direct students toward a singe gene that they attempt to subclone in the second project. The biology of the chosen gene/protein also becomes an individualized focal point with respect to the content of the laboratory. Progress toward course goals is evaluated using written, oral, and group-produced assignments, including a concept map. Pre- and postassessment indicates a significant increase in the understanding of broad concepts in cell biological research.
Although the term ‘epigenetics’ was coined nearly seventy years ago, its critical function in memory processing by the adult CNS has only recently been appreciated. The hypothesis that epigenetic mechanisms regulate memory and behavior was motivated by the need for stable molecular processes that evade turnover of the neuronal proteome. In this article, we discuss evidence that supports a role for neural epigenetic modifications in the formation, consolidation and storage of memory. In addition, we will review the evidence that epigenetic mechanisms regulate synaptic plasticity, a cellular correlate of memory. We will also examine how the concerted action of multiple epigenetic mechanisms with varying spatiotemporal profiles influence selective gene expression in response to behavioral experience. Finally, we will suggest key areas for future research that will help elucidate the complex, vital and still mysterious, role of epigenetic mechanisms in neural function and behavior.
addiction; chromatin; DNA methylation; epigenetics; learning; memory
Laryngeal carcinoma is a common head and neck cancer with poor prognosis. Patients with laryngeal carcinoma usually present late leading to the reduced treatment efficacy and high rate of recurrence. Despite the advance in the use of molecular markers for monitoring human cancers in the past decades, there are still no reliable markers for use to screen laryngeal carcinoma and follow the patients after treatment. Epigenetics emerged as an important field in understanding the biology of the human malignancies. Epigenetic alterations refer to the dysregulation of gene, which do not involve the alterations of the DNA sequence. Major epigenetic changes including methylation imbalance, histone modification, and small RNA dysregulation could play a role in the development of human malignancies. Global epigenetic change is now regarded as a molecular signature of cancer. The characteristics and behavior of a cancer could be predicted based on the specific epigenetic pattern. We here provide a review on the understanding of epigenetic dysregulation in laryngeal carcinoma. Further knowledge on the initiation and progression of laryngeal carcinoma at epigenetic level could promote the translation of the knowledge to clinical use.
Post-translational modifications of histones are critical not only for local regulation of gene expression, but also for higher-order structure of the chromosome and genome organization in general. These modifications enable a preset state to be maintained over subsequent generations and thus provide an epigenetic level of regulation. Heterochromatic regions of the genome are epigenetically regulated to maintain a “silent state” and protein coding genes inserted into these regions are subject to the same epigenetic silencing. The fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe has well characterized regions of heterochromatin and has proven to be a powerful model for elucidation of epigenetic silencing mechanisms. Research in S. pombe led to the breakthrough discovery that epigenetic silencing is not solely a chromatin-driven transcriptional repression and that RNA interference of nascent transcripts can guide epigenetic silencing and associated histone modifications. Over the last 10 years, an eloquent integration of genetic and biochemical studies have greatly propelled our understanding of major players and effector complexes for regulation of RNAi-mediated epigenetic silencing in S. pombe. Here, we review recent research related to regulation of the epigenetic state in S. pombe heterochromatin, focusing specifically on the mechanisms by which transcription and RNA processing interact with the chromatin modification machinery to maintain the epigenetically silent state.
epigenetic silencing; fission yeast; heterochromatin; histone methyltransferase; RNA interference
• Scope In the second part of a two-part review, the ubiquity and universality of epigenetic systems is emphasized, and attention is drawn to the key roles they play, ranging from transducing environmental signals to altering gene expression, genomic architecture and defence.
• Key Issues The importance of transience versus heritability in epigenetic marks is examined, as are the potential for stable epigenetic marks to contribute to plant evolution, and the mechanisms generating novel epigenetic variation, such as stress and interspecific hybridization.
• Future Prospects It is suggested that the ramifications of epigenetics in plant biology are immense, yet unappreciated. In contrast to the ease with which the DNA sequence can be studied, studying the complex patterns inherent in epigenetics poses many problems. Greater knowledge of patterns of epigenetic variation may be informative in taxonomy and systematics, as well as population biology and conservation.
Epigenetics; ploidy; hybrids; DNA methylation; histones; RNA; chromatin; silencing; transgenes; transposons; genome evolution; plant population biology; plant systematics; variation; heritability; plant development
Epigenetic mechanisms are essential for normal development and maintenance of tissue-specific gene expression patterns in mammals. Disruption of epigenetic processes can lead to altered gene function and malignant cellular transformation. Global changes in the epigenetic landscape are a hallmark of cancer. The initiation and progression of cancer, traditionally seen as a genetic disease, is now realized to involve epigenetic abnormalities along with genetic alterations. Recent advancements in the rapidly evolving field of cancer epigenetics have shown extensive reprogramming of every component of the epigenetic machinery in cancer including DNA methylation, histone modifications, nucleosome positioning and non-coding RNAs, specifically microRNA expression. The reversible nature of epigenetic aberrations has led to the emergence of the promising field of epigenetic therapy, which is already making progress with the recent FDA approval of three epigenetic drugs for cancer treatment. In this review, we discuss the current understanding of alterations in the epigenetic landscape that occur in cancer compared with normal cells, the roles of these changes in cancer initiation and progression, including the cancer stem cell model, and the potential use of this knowledge in designing more effective treatment strategies.
Schroedinger's book 'What is Life?' is widely credited for having played a crucial role in development of molecular and cellular biology. My essay revisits the issues raised by this book from the modern perspective of epigenetics and systems biology. I contrast two classes of potential mechanisms of epigenetic stability: 'epigenetic templating' and 'systems biology' approaches, and consider them from the point of view expressed by Schroedinger. I also discuss how quantum entanglement, a nonclassical feature of quantum mechanics, can help to address the 'problem of small numbers' that led Schroedinger to promote the idea of a molecular code-script for explaining the stability of biological order.
Immunological thought is exerting a growing effect in cancer research, correcting a divorce that occurred in the mainstream of the field decades ago just as cancer genetics began to emerge as a dominant movement. Today, with a general consensus on the significance of epigenetics, the inflammatory cancer microenvironment and the immune response in determining cancer pathophysiology, a new synthesis of thought is being spurred by a remarriage with cancer immunology, with great implications for the future of the field. This perspective offers a view on how this synthesis is impacting both the understanding and treatment of cancer using adjuvant immunomodulatory modalities in the context of surgical, radiotherapeutic and chemotherapeutic interventions which are present standards of care. With the revolutions in immunochemotherapy and immunoradiotherapy coming this decade, the next great challenge faced by the field will be how to identify simple, cost effective and broadly applicable solutions that do not rely deeply on personalized characters, in an effort to minimize the daunting complexity and costs of a problem that challenges not only physicians and patients but also health care systems and insurers caring for aging populations in the developed world.
Clear cause-and-effect relationships are commonly established between genotype and the inherited risk of acquiring human and plant diseases and aberrant phenotypes. By contrast, few such cause-and-effect relationships are established linking a chromatin structure (that is, the epitype) with the transgenerational risk of acquiring a disease or abnormal phenotype. It is not entirely clear how epitypes are inherited from parent to offspring as populations evolve, even though epigenetics is proposed to be fundamental to evolution and the likelihood of acquiring many diseases. This article explores the hypothesis that, for transgenerationally inherited chromatin structures, “genotype predisposes epitype”, and that epitype functions as a modifier of gene expression within the classical central dogma of molecular biology. Evidence for the causal contribution of genotype to inherited epitypes and epigenetic risk comes primarily from two different kinds of studies discussed herein. The first and direct method of research proceeds by the examination of the transgenerational inheritance of epitype and the penetrance of phenotype among genetically related individuals. The second approach identifies epitypes that are duplicated (as DNA sequences are duplicated) and evolutionarily conserved among repeated patterns in the DNA sequence. The body of this article summarizes particularly robust examples of these studies from humans, mice, Arabidopsis, and other organisms. The bulk of the data from both areas of research support the hypothesis that genotypes predispose the likelihood of displaying various epitypes, but for only a few classes of epitype. This analysis suggests that renewed efforts are needed in identifying polymorphic DNA sequences that determine variable nucleosome positioning and DNA methylation as the primary cause of inherited epigenome-induced pathologies. By contrast, there is very little evidence that DNA sequence directly determines the inherited positioning of numerous and diverse post-translational modifications of histone side chains within nucleosomes. We discuss the medical and scientific implications of these observations on future research and on the development of solutions to epigenetically induced disorders.