Increasing evidence suggests that epigenetic modifications, including changes in DNA methylation, covalent modifications of histone tails, and gene silencing mediated by non-coding RNA molecules, play a substantial role in the pathogenesis of autoimmune disorders and might be seen as the result of environmental insults that trigger these conditions. Studies in cells and tissues of patients with autoimmune thyroid diseases (AITD), and particularly in Graves' disease (GD) and Hashimoto's thyroiditis (HT), are increasingly revealing altered epigenetic marks and resultant deregulation of gene expression levels, but the available data are still limited to be translated into the clinical settings. Particularly, genome-wide methylation and histone tail modification screenings are limited to a few studies in GD patients, and the diagnostic values of the observed epigenetic changes or their potential prognostic utility are still unclear. Similarly, data concerning microRNA expression in AITD patients are largely descriptive and not yet translated into the clinics. In addition, studies relating certain environmental exposures to specific epigenetic changes in AITD and studies evaluating the crosstalk between different epigenetic mechanisms are largely missing. In summary, despite that there is a clear evidence of epigenetic impairment in AITD, further research is required for a better understanding of the epigenetic networks involved in disease pathogenesis, thereby opening the way for potential diagnostic and prognostic tools, as well as for epigenetic interventions in the patients.
Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2017 Jun 29;8:149. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2017.00149. eCollection 2017.