Highlights from the BTS and BALR joint symposium on “Epigenetics in lung disease”

January 20, 2016

 It has been my pleasure to help organise and chair the BTS/BALR symposium on “Epigenetics and lung disease”, which was presented at the BTS winter meeting on Wednesday 2nd December 2015. The aim for the symposium was to provide an overview of the current field of epigenetics in lung disease, covering a wide variety of diseases and epigenetic mechanisms.

 

The symposium was split into two sessions. The first session was co-chaired by myself and Dr Andrew Williams from University College London (UK) and began with an excellent introductory talk by Ivana Yang from the University of Colorado (USA). Her talk provided an excellent introduction to the breadth of the field of epigenetics before focussing on examining DNA methylation in asthma and lung fibrosis. She presented data on the heritability of DNA methylation patterns between generations, which may help to explain some of the heritability of asthma. She also gave an excellent overview of epigenome wide association studies for identifying novel areas of the genome regulated by epigenetic mechanisms.

 

Until approximately 15 years ago our knowledge of epigenetic mechanisms was limited by a lack of tools for understanding the complexity of histone modifications. The importance of developing novel tools to help understand epigenetic mechanisms, which may in turn lead to therapeutic targets was discussed by Prof Panagis Filippakopoulos, from the Structural Genome Consortium and the University of Oxford (UK), who described the work that goes into drug discovery and developing tools to target epigenetic inhibitors. His presentation included the ongoing development of HDAC and bromodomain inhibitors for lung cancer, highlighting the potential benefits of epigenetics as an avenue of research.

 

Finally in the first session Dr Guy Brusselle from Ghent University Hospital (Belgium) went on to discuss ongoing research into microRNA (miRNA) in the lungs, identifying miRNA expression patterns in sputum samples that are linked to COPD.   He further described the function of particular microRNAs, for example miR-22, in regulating the phenotype of dendritic cells and how miR-22 regulates the expression of HDAC4 and the development of Th17 T cell-driven emphysema.

 

The second session was co-chaired by myself and Prof. Mark Lindsay from the University of Bath (UK) and began with a fascinating talk from Prof David Schwartz from the University of Colorado (USA) who described the role of MUC5B in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), the identification of a single nucleotide polymorphism associated with fibrosis and the subsequent discovery of altered DNA methylation patterns in the same region of the MUC5B gene promoter. This work may help to explain the underlying drivers of IPF and identify effective treatments for this fatal disease.

 

Paul Lavender from King’s College London (UK) gave the final talk of the symposium discussing DNA methylation patterns in T cells and how these drive T cell differentiation leading to the asthma phenotype. He described how modified histones and methylated cytosine residues may be altered in T cells, particularly Th2 cells, in asthmatics and described how these epigenetic phenotypes can be dynamically altered over time.

 

I would like to thank all the speakers and co-chairs for their help and excellent talks on the day. I hope that other people found the symposium as interesting and enjoyable as I did. Finally I would like to thank the BTS and the BALR for inviting me to organise the symposium and their help and support in doing so.

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