Rachel Clifford: Epigenetics of Lung Disease
I am interested in the epigenetics of lung disease, primarily asthma.
Epigenetics refers to a group of processes that control how and when your genes are switched on. My primary interests are in two different epigenetic processes; histone modification and DNA methylation. Histone modification refers to changes that are made to proteins associated with your DNA, while DNA methylation is a modification to DNA itself. In a “resting” cells, your DNA is tightly coiled and your genes are switched off.
Changes in histone modifications and DNA methylation unravel specific regions of DNA and allow genes to be switched on. I have access to cells that have been isolated from the lungs of individuals with and without asthma (and more recently COPD) and have shown that there are alterations to these processes in cells from individuals with asthma which alter gene expression and contribute to asthma.
I am also interested in how environmental factors affect epigenetic processes and have recently shown that exposure of individuals to diesel exhaust and allergen alters DNA methylation in cells collected from individuals airways