New Tool Helps Researchers Link Epigenetic Modifications to Gene Expression

In the quest to understand the intricate interplay between genetics and the environment in disease development, scientists have devoted extensive efforts to unraveling the structure and sequence of genetic material. A key focus of this research lies in exploring epigenetic marks, the chemical modifications made on DNA or its packaging proteins (histones) that affect gene expression without changing the DNA sequence.

Epigenetic modifications serve as crucial regulators of gene activity, orchestrating when and how genes are turned on or off within cells. These marks, including DNA methylation and histone modifications, play a pivotal role in shaping various cellular processes and functions. Changes in epigenetic marks can profoundly impact gene regulation, potentially contributing to the onset of diseases such as cancer and neurodegenerative disorders.

To better understand the effects of epigenetic marks on health and disease, scientists have been searching for ways to determine the complex relationships between specific modifications and gene function. That’s where epidecodeR comes in – a new tool created by Dr. Dan Ohtan Wang and Dr. Kandarp Joshi at the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS) that aims to bridge this knowledge gap.

Published in Briefings in Bioinformatics, epidecodeR offers a user-friendly interface that allows researchers to quickly see how modifications affect gene behavior in various contexts. By identifying correlations between specific modifications and gene responses, epidecodeR provides valuable insights into the role of these modifications in conditions such as cancer and neurological disorders.

“If a positive correlation is found, this could motivate scientists to confirm the findings, helping them understand the role of these gene modifications in various conditions, including cancer and neurological disorders,” explains Dr. Joshi.

Employing advanced calculations, the researchers categorized genes based on their modification profiles, enabling epidecodeR to predict the functional implications of specific modifications. Their studies demonstrated the tool’s efficacy in predicting the impact of alterations on gene activity and identifying potential targets for intervention, such as histone deacetylase inhibitors and RNA demethylase blockers.

Moreover, epidecodeR proved instrumental in exploring the relationship between histone modifications and drug abuse, shedding light on the molecular mechanisms underlying addiction.

Looking ahead, the researchers aim to enhance epidecodeR’s accuracy and specificity by incorporating more detailed information about the location, type, and abundance of modifications within genes. As the complexity of data grows, they also plan to equip the tool with a range of statistical tests to expand its capabilities further.

“We want to include more details concerning where, how, and how many modifications occur in genes,” Joshi explains. “As the data becomes more complex, we also aim to provide users with various statistical tests to enhance the capabilities of the tool.”

Overall, epidecodeR represents a significant advancement in deciphering the intricate language of epigenetic marks and their impact on gene regulation. By providing researchers with a powerful analytical tool, epidecodeR holds promise for unlocking new insights into the molecular mechanisms of disease and paving the way for targeted therapeutic interventions.

Source: Kandarp Joshi, Dan O Wang. epidecodeR: a functional exploration tool for epigenetic and epitranscriptomic regulation. Briefings in Bioinformatics, January 23, 2024.

Reference: New tool helps decipher gene behaviour. Kyoto University. February 29, 2024.

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