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NIEHS to Fund Studies of Toxic Exposure Impacts on Gene Expression, Chromatin

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences plans to provide up to $3 million next year to fund research into how exposure to toxic chemicals in the environment affects gene expression.

In a new funding announcement, NIEHS said that it plans to fund grants with up to $400,000 next year that seek to define how environmental exposures affect proteins and other elements that govern gene expression patterns and chromatin states.

Exposure to toxicants that cause changes in gene expression and DNA methylation profiles can lead to diseases such as autoimmune and neurodevelopmental disorders and cancer. NIEHS has over the past decade been supporting projects that focus on exposures to toxicants such as arsenic, tobacco smoke, airborne particulates, and others.

The institute said it has already made "a significant investment" in research to identify epigenetic signatures of exposure, and now it wants to support studies that home in on how these exposures perturb proteins and processes that occur upstream of DNA methylation and other epigenetic marks.

The goal for this program is to begin to move beyond descriptive and correlative studies to understand the mechanisms involved in environmental exposure and gene expression.

Projects funded under this program may include, but are not limited to, research into chromatin accessibility and nucleosome positioning; the role of exposures in influencing the distribution, turnover, and positioning of nucleosomes; chromatin remodeling; the effects of exposures on non-coding RNA DNA/nucleosome binding; and studies that examine mechanisms involved in exposure related to the disruption of normal cis-regulatory functions.

Also under this funding program, the National Institute on Drug Abuse plans to fund one award of $400,000 for research that investigates the impact of drugs of abuse on chromatin. These projects will use high-throughput assays that can reveal changes in chromatin looping, 3D-chromatin structure, or interactions between non-coding RNAs with chromatin to study impacts of drugs such as nicotine, stimulants, opioids, abused prescription medicines, psychedelics, and others.

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