Human prostate cancer cells carry a myriad of genome defects, including both genetic and epigenetic alterations. These changes, which can be maintained through mitosis, generate malignant phenotypes capable of selective growth, survival, invasion, and metastasis. During prostatic carcinogenesis, epigenetic changes arise earlier than genetic defects, linking the appearance of epigenetic alterations in some way to disease etiology. The most common genetic defect thus far described, leading to fusion transcripts between the androgen-regulated gene TMPRSS2 and genes from the ETS family of transcription factors, likely endows prostate cancer cells with the ability to co-opt androgen signaling, the major prostate differentiation pathway, to support the malignant phenotype. Whether epigenetic changes promote the appearance of TMPRSS2-ETS family fusion transcripts or collaborate with fusion transcript expression in the pathogenesis of prostate cancer has not been established. However, a growing list of epigenetic alterations has provided new opportunities for clinical tests that might aid in prostate cancer screening, detection, diagnosis, staging, and risk stratification. The epigenetic changes appear to be more attractive than genetic changes as prostate cancer biomarkers because epigenetic alterations are present in a greater fraction of prostate cancer cases than any of the known genetic defects. In addition, an emerging generation of assay strategies for detection of specific DNA sequences carrying 5-meC, the major epigenetic genome mark, has pushed somatic epigenetic alterations to the forefront of molecular biomarker assay development for cancer. Finally, a growing portfolio of epigenetic drugs, capable of reversing the phenotypic consequences of somatic epigenetic defects, has entered clinical trials for prostate cancer in the search for a new rational therapy for the disease.
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