Mendelian disorders of the epigenetic machinery: postnatal malleability and therapeutic prospects

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The epigenetic machinery in conjunction with the transcriptional machinery is responsible for maintaining genome-wide chromatin states and dynamically regulating gene expression. Mendelian disorders of the epigenetic machinery (MDEMs) are genetic disorders resulting from mutations in components of the epigenetic apparatus. Though individually rare, MDEMs have emerged as a collectively common etiology for intellectual disability (ID) and growth disruption. Studies in model organisms and humans have demonstrated dosage sensitivity of this gene group with haploinsufficiency as a predominant disease mechanism. The epigenetic machinery consists of three enzymatic components (writers, erasers and chromatin remodelers) as well as one non-enzymatic group (readers). A tally of the entire census of such factors revealed that although multiple enzymatic activities never coexist within a single component, individual enzymatic activities often coexist with a reader domain. This group of disorders disrupts both the chromatin and transcription states of target genes downstream of the given component but also DNA methylation on a global scale. Elucidation of these global epigenetic changes may inform our understanding of disease pathogenesis and have diagnostic utility. Moreover, many therapies targeting epigenetic marks already exist, and some have proven successful in treating cancer. This, along with the recent observation that neurological dysfunction in these disorders may in fact be treatable in postnatal life, suggests that the scientific community should prioritize this group as a potentially treatable cause of ID. Here we summarize the recent expansion and major characteristics of MDEMs, as well as the unique therapeutic prospects for this group of disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R254-R264
JournalHuman molecular genetics
Issue numberR2
StatePublished - Nov 21 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)

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