Epigenetics in radiation-induced fibrosis

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Radiotherapy is a major cancer treatment option but dose-limiting side effects such as late-onset fibrosis in the irradiated tissue severely impair quality of life in cancer survivors. Efforts to explain radiation-induced fibrosis, for example, by genetic variation remained largely inconclusive. Recently published molecular analyses on radiation response and fibrogenesis showed a prominent role of epigenetic gene regulation. This review summarizes the current knowledge on epigenetic modifications in fibrotic disease and radiation response, and it points out the important role for epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation, microRNAs and histone modifications in the development of this disease. The synopsis illustrates the complexity of radiationinduced fibrosis and reveals the need for investigations to further unravel its molecular mechanisms. Importantly, epigenetic changes are long-term determinants of gene expression and can therefore support those mechanisms that induce and perpetuate fibrogenesis even in the absence of the initial damaging stimulus. Future work must comprise the interconnection of acute radiation response and long-lasting epigenetic effects in order to assess their role in late-onset radiation fibrosis. An improved understanding of the underlying biology is fundamental to better comprehend the origin of this disease and to improve both preventive and therapeutic strategies.

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