There is growing evidence that retinal degenerative diseases are accompanied by epigenetic changes in both deoxyribonucleic acid methylation and histone modification. Even in the monogenic disease retinitis pigmentosa, there is a cascade of changes in gene expression that correlate with epigenetic changes, suggesting that many of the symptoms, and degenerative changes, may be a result of epigenetic changes downstream from the genetic mutation. This is supported by data from studies of diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration, 2 diseases where it has been difficult to define a single causative change. Initial studies with modifiers of deoxyribonucleic acid methylation suggest that they can provide therapeutic benefit. A number of drugs are available to inhibit specific epigenetic histone modifier enzymes, and these offer the possibility of new therapeutic approaches to retinal disease. Systemic treatment with inhibitors of histone demethylases and histone deacetylases have arrested rod degeneration in rodent models of retinitis pigmentosa. Some evidence has suggested that similar treatments may provide benefits for patients with diabetic retinopathy. Because differentiation of retinal stem cells is regulated in part by epigenetic mechanisms, it may also be possible to direct stem cell differentiation pathways through the use of selective epigenetic modifiers. This is predicted to provide a valuable avenue to accelerate the introduction of regenerative approaches to retinal disease. Epigenetic modifiers are poised to become a powerful new approach to treat retinal degenerative diseases.
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