In the field of epigenetics we study how the accessibility of our genes is regulated in response to environmental factors. These factors can cause stressful conditions which our bodies have to handle to maintain health and survive and the stressful conditions can be handled by enhancing or limiting the use of different genes.
A variety of stressful conditions have been shown to induce epigenetic alterations reflected in DNA methylation patterns, some of which can be inherited over generations. These include life-threatening experiences resulting in PTSD, inflammatory and metabolic diseases as well as infections.
When we study human response to stimuli, diseases or drugs, we often notice a variation in response. For example a drug that is effective in one individual may not be effective or even cause side-effects in others. The hidden explanation, which is not captured by standard measurements in clinical studies, may be found in the epigenome.
DNA methylation patterns can be rather stable over time, and therefore constitutes an attractive parameter to include in studies in which the background to cohort variability is sought.