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The University of Southampton



Epigenetics refers to processes that induce heritable changes in gene expression without altering the gene sequence.

The major epigenetic processes are DNA methylation, histone modification and non-coding RNAs. There is now substantial evidence that alterations in these processes lead to human disease.

Our research at Southampton in epigenetics extends from the basic biology of how these epigenetic processes regulate gene expression, the effect of the environment on the epigenome, through to their role in human disease. In particular, research is focused on the role of epigenetic processes in the developmental origins of adult diseases such as heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, allergic disorders, osteoarthritis and cancer.

Our research examines how early life environment (maternal obesity, gestational diabetes, diet and lifestyle) can induce epigenetic changes within the fetus leading to persistent changes in metabolism and an altered risk of disease in later life. The research capitalises on our epigenetics facility and the deeply-phenotyped cohorts and intervention studies led by the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit and our partners nationally and internationally, notably through the EpiGen Global Research Consortium.

In addition, researchers in Southampton are investigating how aberrant DNA methylation can lead to single locus epigenetic imprinting disorders such as Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome and Silver-Russell syndrome. We were the first to establish an epigenetic cause for diabetes and have identified new imprinting syndromes, Temple syndrome and multilocus imprinting disorders. Understanding how alterations in these epigenetic processes may lead or predispose to disease is crucial not only for the early identification of individuals at increased risk but also for the development of new strategies for intervention and treatment.

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