Epigenetics refers to heritable changes in gene expression that are, unlike mutations, not attributable to alterations in DNA sequence. Two predominant epigenetic mechanisms are DNA methylation and histone modification. Epigenetic regulation of gene expression has emerged as a fundamental pathway in the pathogenesis of numerous malignancies, including cancers of the digestive systemin fact, many exciting discoveries in epigenetics have come out of the study of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract and hepatobiliary tree. Epigenetic modifications of DNA in cancer and precancerous lesions offer the promise of novel biomarkers for early cancer detection, prediction, prognosis, and response to treatment. Furthermore, reversal of epigenetic changes represents a potential target of novel therapeutic strategies and medication design. In the future, innovative diagnostic tests and treatment regimens will likely be based on epigenetic mechanisms and be incorporated into the gastroenterologists practice.
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