Integration of epigenetic mechanisms into non-genotoxic carcinogenicity hazard assessment: Focus on DNA methylation and histone modifications

Desaulniers Daniel*, Paule Vasseur, Abigail Jacobs, M. Cecilia Aguila, Norman Ertych, Miriam N. Jacobs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Epigenetics involves a series of mechanisms that entail histone and DNA covalent modifications and non-coding RNAs, and that collectively contribute to programing cell functions and differentiation. Epigenetic anomalies and DNA mutations are co-drivers of cellular dysfunctions, including carcinogenesis. Alterations of the epigenetic system occur in cancers whether the initial carcinogenic events are from genotoxic (GTxC) or non-genotoxic (NGTxC) carcinogens. NGTxC are not inherently DNA reactive, they do not have a unifying mode of action and as yet there are no regulatory test guidelines addressing mechanisms of NGTxC. To fil this gap, the Test Guideline Programme of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development is developing a framework for an integrated approach for the testing and assessment (IATA) of NGTxC and is considering assays that address key events of cancer hallmarks. Here, with the intent of better understanding the applicability of epigenetic assays in chemical carcinogenicity assessment, we focus on DNA methylation and histone modifications and review: (1) epigenetic mechanisms contributing to carcinogenesis, (2) epigenetic mechanisms altered following exposure to arsenic, nickel, or phenobarbital in order to identify common carcinogen-specific mechanisms, (3) characteristics of a series of epigenetic assay types, and (4) epigenetic assay validation needs in the context of chemical hazard assessment. As a key component of numerous NGTxC mechanisms of action, epigenetic assays included in IATA assay combinations can contribute to improved chemical carcinogen identification for the better protection of public health.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10969
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This research received no external funding.

Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Publisher Copyright: © 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

Citation: Desaulniers, D.; Vasseur, P.; Jacobs, A.; Aguila, M.C.; Ertych, N.; Jacobs, M.N. Integration of Epigenetic Mechanisms into Non-Genotoxic Carcinogenicity Hazard Assessment: Focus on DNA Methylation and Histone Modifications. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2021, 22, 10969.



  • AOP
  • Carcinogens
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • Histone modifications
  • IATA
  • Mode of action
  • Non-genotoxic
  • Risk assessment


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