Melanomas, which originate from melanocytic cells, mainly develop in the skin but can also arise at other body sites. The disease accounts for approximately 90% of deaths related to cutaneous tumors with late stage metastatic melanoma having a very poor prognosis of 6–9 month median survival for untreated patients. Research in the last decades resulted in ground-breaking discoveries of melanoma genetics and biology. High frequency mutations in genes like BRAF, NRAS and KIT, which lead to hyper-activation of the MAPK signaling pathway, drive melanoma progression. Targeting the MAPK signaling pathway has successfully been translated into effective therapies that significantly improve patient survival. Despite the unquestionable importance of such genetic events, the involvement of epigenetic alterations for melanoma development, and resistance to aforementioned therapies is becoming increasingly apparent. In this chapter, epigenetic alterations commonly found in melanoma are introduced, with a focus on histone and DNA modifications and their relevance for melanoma development, progression and therapy response. Detailed knowledge about this emerging aspect of melanoma research will help to understand the plastic nature of melanoma and set the foundation for novel treatment strategies that target aberrant gene regulation on genetic and epigenetic levels.
Part of the book: Human Skin Cancers