Gene expression and inheritance are not only a function of the DNA code, but also epigenetic mechanisms that regulate DNA accessibility, transcription, and translation of the genetic code into a functional protein. Epigenetic mechanisms are invoked by life experiences, including stress and exposure to drugs of abuse, and the resulting changes in gene expression can be inherited by future generations. This chapter highlights recent research demonstrating epigenetic changes in response to drug exposure with a focus on three different mechanisms: DNA methylation, histone modification, and noncoding RNAs. We briefly describe each of these mechanisms and then provide key examples of drug-induced changes involving these mechanisms, as well as epigenetic manipulations that alter effects of drugs. We then review cutting-edge technologies, including viral-mediated gene transfer and gene editing, that are being used to manipulate epigenetic processes with temporal and cell-type specificity. We also describe and provide examples of intergenerational epigenetic modifications, a topic that has interesting implications for how addiction-related traits may be passed down across generations. Finally, we discuss how this research provides a greater understanding of drug addiction and may lead to novel molecular targets for preventions and interventions for drug abuse.
Part of the book: Recent Advances in Drug Addiction Research and Clinical Applications