In recent years, my laboratory, as well as others, have established the observation that epigenetic disruption, particularly in the DNA methylation and histone modification patterns, contributes to the initiation and progression of human tumors (Esteller, Nat Rev Genet 2007; Esteller, N Engl J Med 2008; Esteller, Nat Rev Biotech, In Press, 2010). Even more recently, it has been recognized that microRNAs, small non-coding RNAs that are thought to regulate gene expression by sequence-specific base pairing in mRNA targets, also play a key role in the biology of the cell, and that they can also have an impact in the development of many diseases, including cancer (le Sage and Agami, 2006; Blenkiron and Miska, 2007). However, there is little understanding about epigenetic modifications that might regulate the activity of microRNAs and other non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs), such as long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs), small-interfering RNAs (siRNAs), transcribed ultraconserved regions (T-UCRs), small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs), small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs), long interspersed ncRNAs (lincRNAs), promoter-associated RNAs (PASRs and PALRs) and terminator-associated sRNAs (TASRs) (Calin et al., 2007; Mercer, et al., 2009; Ghildiyal & Zamore, 2009; Jacquier, 2009). Our ignorance in this respect is even more significant if we consider these questions in the domain of cancer. Making best use of our expertise in several of these fields, my group will tackle the study of the epigenetic modifications that regulate ncRNA expression and how the DNA methylation and histone modifications profiles of these loci might become distorted in human cancer. These findings could have profound consequences not only in the understading of tumor biology, but in the design of better molecular staging, diagnosis and treatments of human malignancies.
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