Chung, F. F., & Herceg, Z.; “The Promises and Challenges of Toxico-Epigenomics: Environmental Chemicals and Their Impacts on the Epigenome;” Environmental Health Perspectives, 2020, 128(1), 15001; DOI: 10.1289/EHP6104.


BACKGROUND: It has been estimated that a substantial portion of chronic and noncommunicable diseases can be caused or exacerbated by exposure to environmental chemicals. Multiple lines of evidence indicate that early life exposure to environmental chemicals at relatively low concentrations could have lasting effects on individual and population health. Although the potential adverse effects of environmental chemicals are known to the scientific community, regulatory agencies, and the public, little is known about the mechanistic basis by which these chemicals can induce long-term or transgenerational effects. To address this question, epigenetic mechanisms have emerged as the potential link between genetic and environmental factors of health and disease.

OBJECTIVES: We present an overview of epigenetic regulation and a summary of reported evidence of environmental toxicants as epigenetic disruptors. We also discuss the advantages and challenges of using epigenetic biomarkers as an indicator of toxicant exposure, using measures that can be taken to improve risk assessment, and our perspectives on the future role of epigenetics in toxicology.

DISCUSSION: Until recently, efforts to apply epigenomic data in toxicology and risk assessment were restricted by an incomplete understanding of epigenomic variability across tissue types and populations. This is poised to change with the development of new tools and concerted efforts by researchers across disciplines that have led to a better understanding of epigenetic mechanisms and comprehensive maps of epigenomic variation. With the foundations now in place, we foresee that unprecedented advancements will take place in the field in the coming years.