Genetics, epigenetics and pharmaco-(epi)genomics

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Angiogenesis is controlled by a balance between pro- and anti-angiogenic factors. Studies in mice and human beings have shown that this balance, as well as the general sensitivity of the endothelium to these factors, is genetically pre-determined. In an effort to dissect this genetic basis, different types of genetic variability have emerged: mutations and translocations in angiogenic factors have been linked to several vascular malformations and haemangiomas, whereas SNPs have been associated with complex genetic disorders, such as cancer, neurodegeneration and diabetes. In addition, copy number alterations of angiogenic factors have been reported in several tumours. More recently, epigenetic changes caused by aberrant DNA methylation or histone acetylation of anti-angiogenic molecules have been shown to determine angiogenesis as well. Initial studies also revealed a crucial role for microRNAs in stimulating or reducing angiogenesis. So far, most of these genetic studies have focused on tumour angiogenesis, but future research is expected to improve our understanding of how genetic variants determine angiogenesis in other diseases. Importantly, these genetic insights might also be of important clinical relevance for the use of anti-angiogenic strategies in cancer or macular degeneration.

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