, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 309-325,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The significance of epigenetic alterations in lung carcinogenesis

Abstract

Lung cancer is recognized as a leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide and its frequency is still increasing. The prognosis in lung cancer is poor and limited by the difficulties of diagnosis at early stage of disease, when it is amenable to surgery treatment. Therefore, the advance in identification of lung cancer genetic and epigenetic markers with diagnostic and/or prognostic values becomes an important tool for future molecular oncology and personalized therapy. As in case of other tumors, aberrant epigenetic landscape has been documented also in lung cancer, both at early and late stage of carcinogenesis. Hypermethylation of specific genes, mainly tumor suppressor genes, as well as hypomethylation of oncogenes and retrotransposons, associated with histopathological subtypes of lung cancer, has been found. Epigenetic aberrations of histone proteins and, especially, the lower global levels of histone modifications have been associated with poorer clinical outcome in lung cancer. The recently discovered role of epigenetic modifications of microRNA expression in tumors has been also proven in lung carcinogenesis. The identified epigenetic events in lung cancer contribute to its specific epigenotype and correlated phenotypic features. So far, some of them have been suggested to be cancer biomarkers for early detection, disease monitoring, prognosis, and risk assessment. As epigenetic aberrations are reversible, their correction has emerged as a promising therapeutic target.