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Highly Accessed Review

Epigenetic modifications in rheumatoid arthritis

Simon Strietholt1, Britta Maurer2, Marvin A Peters1, Thomas Pap1* and Steffen Gay2

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Experimental Musculoskeletal Medicine, University Hospital Munster, Domagkstrasse 3, 48149 Münster, Germany

2 Center of Experimental Rheumatology, University Hospital of Zurich/Zurich Center of Integrative Human Physiology, Zurich, Switzerland

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2008, 10:219  doi:10.1186/ar2500

Published: 10 October 2008

Abstract

Over the last decades, genetic factors for rheumatoid diseases like the HLA haplotypes have been studied extensively. However, during the past years of research, it has become more and more evident that the influence of epigenetic processes on the development of rheumatic diseases is probably as strong as the genetic background of a patient. Epigenetic processes are heritable changes in gene expression without alteration of the nucleotide sequence. Such modifications include chromatin methylation and post-translational modification of histones or other chromatin-associated proteins. The latter comprise the addition of methyl, acetyl, and phosphoryl groups or even larger moieties such as binding of ubiquitin or small ubiquitin-like modifier. The combinatory nature of these processes forms a complex network of epigenetic modifications that regulate gene expression through activation or silencing of genes. This review provides insight into the role of epigenetic alterations in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis and points out how a better understanding of such mechanisms may lead to novel therapeutic strategies.