Eukaryotic Epigenetic Gene Regulation

Free Response

In cancer cells, alteration to epigenetic modifications turns off genes that are normally expressed. Hypothetically, how could you reverse this process to turn these genes back on?


You can create medications that reverse the epigenetic processes (to add histone acetylation marks or to remove DNA methylation) and create an open chromosomal configuration.

A scientific study demonstrated that rat mothering behavior impacts the stress response in their pups. Rats that were born and grew up with attentive mothers showed low activation of stress-response genes later in life, while rats with inattentive mothers had high activation of stress-response genes in the same situation. An additional study that swapped the pups at birth (i.e., rats born to inattentive mothers grew up with attentive mothers and vice versa) showed the same positive effect of attentive mothering. How do genetics and/or epigenetics explain the results of this study?


Swapping the pups at birth indicates that the genes inherited from the attentive or inattentive mothers do not explain the rats’ stress-responses later in life. Instead, researchers found that the attentive mothering caused the methylation of genes that control the expression of stress receptors in the brain. Thus, rats that received attentive maternal care exhibited epigenetic changes that limited the expression of stress-response genes, and that the effect was durable over their lifespans.

Some autoimmune diseases show a positive correlation with dramatically decreased expression of histone deacetylase 9 (HDAC9, an enzyme that removes acetyl groups from histones). Why would the decreased expression of HDAC9 cause immune cells to produce inflammatory genes at inappropriate times?


Histone acetylation reduces the positive charge of histone proteins, loosening the DNA wrapped around the histones. This looser DNA can then interact with transcription factors to express genes found in that region. Normally, once the gene is no longer needed, histone deacetylase enzymes remove the acetyl groups from histones so that the DNA becomes tightly wound and inaccessible again. However, when there is a defect in HDAC9, the deacetylation may not occur. In an immune cell, this would mean that inflammatory genes that were made accessible during an infection are not tightly rewound around the histones.