Review Paper

Human Genetics

, Volume 132, Issue 4, pp 359-383

First online:

Genetic syndromes caused by mutations in epigenetic genes

  • María BerdascoAffiliated withCancer Epigenetics Group, Cancer Epigenetics and Biology Program (PEBC), Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL)
  • , Manel EstellerAffiliated withCancer Epigenetics Group, Cancer Epigenetics and Biology Program (PEBC), Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL)Department of Physiological Sciences II, School of Medicine, University of BarcelonaInstitució Catalana de Recerca I Estudis Avançats (ICREA) Email author 

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The orchestrated organization of epigenetic factors that control chromatin dynamism, including DNA methylation, histone marks, non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) and chromatin-remodeling proteins, is essential for the proper function of tissue homeostasis, cell identity and development. Indeed, deregulation of epigenetic profiles has been described in several human pathologies, including complex diseases (such as cancer, cardiovascular and neurological diseases), metabolic pathologies (type 2 diabetes and obesity) and imprinting disorders. Over the last decade it has become increasingly clear that mutations of genes involved in epigenetic mechanism, such as DNA methyltransferases, methyl-binding domain proteins, histone deacetylases, histone methylases and members of the SWI/SNF family of chromatin remodelers are linked to human disorders, including Immunodeficiency Centromeric instability Facial syndrome 1, Rett syndrome, Rubinstein–Taybi syndrome, Sotos syndrome or alpha-thalassemia/mental retardation X-linked syndrome, among others. As new members of the epigenetic machinery are described, the number of human syndromes associated with epigenetic alterations increases. As recent examples, mutations of histone demethylases and members of the non-coding RNA machinery have recently been associated with Kabuki syndrome, Claes-Jensen X-linked mental retardation syndrome and Goiter syndrome. In this review, we describe the variety of germline mutations of epigenetic modifiers that are known to be associated with human disorders, and discuss the therapeutic potential of epigenetic drugs as palliative care strategies in the treatment of such disorders.