Dietary regulation of the epigenome


Our diet is a central etiological element for certain cancers, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). Scientist are continually elucidating the molecular mechanisms that link nutrition to physiology and pathophysiology, in which the last two decades have given rise to our increased understanding for diet-gene interactions, also termed nutrigenetics or nutrigenomics. Recent advancements in ‘omics’ technologies have allowed for acquisition of new knowledge aimed at better understanding diet-gene interactions for optimal health and disease prevention. This has given rise to nutri-epigenetics, in which researchers are examining a role for macro (i.e., protein, fats and carbohydrates) and micro (i.e., vitamins, minerals and other food-derived compounds) nutrients in the regulation of chromatin accessibility and non-coding RNAs, which impact gene expression independent of changes to nucleotide sequence.

It is well-known that nutrients derived from plant-based foods (i.e., fruits, vegetables and whole grains) benefit health and wellness through regulation of gene expression. However, recent findings have shown that food bioactives derived from fruits and vegetables regulate gene expression via modifications of nucleosomal DNA or histone proteins. Modifications of DNA or histone proteins by methylation and acetylation can have profound effects on gene expression, without underlying changes to nucleotide sequence, and is termed epigenetics. Food bioactives such as sulforaphane, resveratrol and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), found in cruciferous vegetables, grapes and teas, respectively, have all been shown to regulate DNA/histone methylation and acetylation in the control of gene expression in in vitro and in vivo models of cancer and CVD. More recently, screening approaches were used to successfully demonstrate that many food bioactives can regulate lysine acetylation, in part, through inhibition of histone deacetylase (HDAC) enzymes; the impact of many of these screened food bioactives as epigenetic regulators of disease remains poorly understood.

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