The team of the epigenetics research group

Epigenetics

Every single cell in our body contains DNA, the macro-molecule over two meters in length which encodes all our genes and which is highly packaged to fit into the micro-meter sized cell core. Genes play key roles in human health and disease. Yet, many diseases, including certain types of cancer and neurodegenerative disorders, can not be explained by genetics alone. Research over the past years revealed that the packaging structures of the DNA might be the missing link to understand these diseases.

The molecular packaging structures of the DNA are referred to as chromatin. It can be molecularly modified in various ways and thereby dynamically influence gene activity and, thus, cellular functions. Even further, chromatin modifications can be influenced by environmental factors, such as diet and lifestyle, and can form metastable and even heritable structures without any changes in the underlying DNA sequence. Hence, chromatin can integrate external signals into the regulatory program of the cell and forms an additional information layer above the DNA. This layer is referred to as the epigenome, from greek “epi-”, above. The epigenome thus presents the nexus between genes and the environment, and its modifications may influence onset and progression of many diseases.

In our research group, we focus on epigenetics of neurodegenerative disorders, and we aim to identify genome-wide signatures of epigenetic modifications in the context of environmental factors.

To achieve this goal, we take advantage of several model organisms. From yeast, to mouse and rat, to human, we study the epigenetics of neurodegenerative diseases. Our findings will enhance the molecular understanding of these disorders and may open new avenues for the development of therapies.