Epigenetics and the Environment in Airway Disease: Asthma and Allergic Rhinitis

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2020;1253:153-181. doi: 10.1007/978-981-15-3449-2_6.

Abstract

Asthma and rhinitis are complex, heterogeneous diseases characterized by chronic inflammation of the upper and lower airways. While genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified a number of susceptible loci and candidate genes associated with the pathogenesis of asthma and allergic rhinitis (AR), the risk-associated alleles account for only a very small percent of the genetic risk. In allergic airway and other complex diseases, it is thought that epigenetic modifications, including DNA methylation, histone modifications, and non-coding microRNAs, caused by complex interactions between the underlying genome and the environment may account for some of this "missing heritability" and may explain the high degree of plasticity in immune responses. In this chapter, we will focus on the current knowledge of classical epigenetic modifications, DNA methylation and histone modifications, and their potential role in asthma and AR. In particular, we will review epigenetic variations associated with maternal airway disease, demographics, environment, and non-specific associations. The role of specific genetic haplotypes in environmentally induced epigenetic changes are also discussed. A major limitation of many of the current studies of asthma epigenetics is that they evaluate epigenetic modifications in both allergic and non-allergic asthma, making it difficult to distinguish those epigenetic modifications that mediate allergic asthma from those that mediate non-allergic asthma. Additionally, most DNA methylation studies in asthma use peripheral or cord blood due to poor accessibility of airway cells or tissue. Unlike DNA sequences, epigenetic alterations are quite cell- and tissue-specific, and epigenetic changes found in airway tissue or cells may be discordant from that of circulating blood. These two confounding factors should be considered when reviewing epigenetic studies in allergic airway disease.

Keywords: Airway disease; Allergic rhinitis; Asthma; Heritability; Maternal transmission.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / genetics*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Epigenomics*
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Rhinitis, Allergic / genetics*