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A somatic epitype
is a non-heritable epigenetic alteration in a gene. It is similar to conventional epigenetics in that it does not involve changes in the DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...
primary sequence. Physically, the somatic epitype corresponds to changes in DNA methylation
In the chemical sciences, methylation denotes the addition of a methyl group to a substrate or the substitution of an atom or group by a methyl group. Methylation is a form of alkylation with, to be specific, a methyl group, rather than a larger carbon chain, replacing a hydrogen atom...
, oxidative damage (replacement of GTP
Guanosine-5'-triphosphate is a purine nucleoside triphosphate. It can act as a substrate for the synthesis of RNA during the transcription process...
with oxo-8-dGTP), or changes in DNA-chromatin
Chromatin is the combination of DNA and proteins that make up the contents of the nucleus of a cell. The primary functions of chromatin are; to package DNA into a smaller volume to fit in the cell, to strengthen the DNA to allow mitosis and meiosis and prevent DNA damage, and to control gene...
structure that are not reversed by normal cellular or nuclear repair mechanisms. Somatic epitypes alter gene expression levels without altering the amino acid sequence of the expressed protein. Current research suggests that somatic epitypes can be altered both before and after birth, and this alteration can be in response to exposure to heavy metals (such as lead
Lead is a main-group element in the carbon group with the symbol Pb and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft, malleable poor metal. It is also counted as one of the heavy metals. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed...
), differences in maternal care, or nutritional or behavioral stress. There is no indication that somatic epitypes are heritable in a conventional epigenetic fashion. Some research suggests that methylation levels (and gene expression) can be reversed for some somatic epitypes by alterations in environmental factors such as diet.