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Bifurcation in epigenetics: implications in development, proliferation, and diseases.

Daniel Jost (2014)

Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys, 89(1):010701.

Cells often exhibit different and stable phenotypes from the same DNA sequence. Robustness and plasticity of such cellular states are controlled by diverse transcriptional and epigenetic mechanisms, among them the modification of biochemical marks on chromatin. Here, we develop a stochastic model that describes the dynamics of epigenetic marks along a given DNA region. Through mathematical analysis, we show the emergence of bistable and persistent epigenetic states from the cooperative recruitment of modifying enzymes. We alsofind that the dynamical system exhibits a critical point and displays, in the presence of asymmetries in recruitment, a bifurcation diagram with hysteresis. These results have deep implications for our understanding of epigenetic regulation. In particular, our study allows one to reconcile within the same formalism the robust maintenance of epigenetic identity observed in differentiated cells, the epigenetic plasticity of pluripotent cells during differentiation, and the effects of epigenetic misregulation in diseases. Moreover, it suggests a possible mechanism for developmental transitions where the system is shifted close to the critical point to benefit from high susceptibility to developmental cues.

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