Epigenetic modulation of gene activity occurs in response to non-genetic factors such as body weight status, physical activity, dietary factors, and environmental toxins. In addition, each of these factors is thought to affect and be affected by the gut microbiome. A primary mechanism that links these various factors together in mediating control of gene expression is the production of metabolites that serve as critical cofactors and allosteric regulators of epigenetic processes. Here, we review the involvement of the gut microbiota and its interactions with dietary factors, many of which have known cellular bioactivity, focusing on particular epigenetic processes affected and the influence they have on human health and disease, particularly cancer and response to treatment. Advances in DNA sequencing have expanded the capacity for studying the microbiome. Combining this with rapidly improving techniques to measure the metabolome provides opportunities to understand complex relationships that may underlie the development and progression of cancer as well as treatment-related sequelae. Given broad reaching and fundamental biology, both at the cellular and organismal levels, we propose that interactive research programs, which utilize a wide range of mutually informative experimental model systems—each one optimally suited for answering particular questions—provide the best path forward for breaking ground on new knowledge and ultimately understanding the epigenetic significance of the gut microbiome and its response to dietary factors in cancer prevention and therapy.
- Gut microbiome
- Histone proteins