Environmental Triggers, the Epigenome, and Disease Progression in AS

By Elin Aslanyan

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A study presented at the European League Against Rheumatism's (EULAR) 2015 Annual Scientific Meeting suggests that “DNA methylation - a mechanism that regulates gene expression - could influence the progression of structural damage to the joints and spine in ankylosing spondylitis (AS). Study findings showed significant associations between a low methylation score and more radiographic progression (X-ray) of the disease, and implicated smoking in worsening of disease outcome.”

"This is the first study to demonstrate how epigenetic factors can influence radiographic progression in AS," said study investigator Dr. Proton Rahman, Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada." We hypothesise that environmental triggers - such as smoking - could lead to epigenetic changes that accelerate the damage caused by the disease, and that investigating the mechanisms that control these changes could one day lead to novel therapeutic targets for AS."

What is the epigenome?
The epigenome is a multitude of chemical compounds that can tell the genome [the complete assembly of our DNA] what to do. The epigenome is made up of chemical compounds and proteins that can attach to DNA and direct such actions as turning genes on or off, controlling the production of proteins in particular cells.

What is DNA methylation?
DNA methylation is a common signaling tool that cells use to lock genes in the "off" position

“The study consisted of 75 AS patients that had radiographs on average every three years, with 35 of these patients exhibiting radiographic progression. The study showed a significant association between smoking, methylation status and radiographic progression; a low total methylation score was significantly associated with more radiographic progression, and worse radiographic progression was observed in smokers than non-smokers (not statistically significant).”

Read the full press release: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-06/elar-mrg061115.php

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