Epigenetics refers to the heritable changes in gene expression without a change in the DNA sequence itself. Two of these major changes include aberrant DNA methylation as well as changes to histone modification patterns. Alterations to the epigenome can drive expression of oncogenes and suppression of tumor suppressors, resulting in tumorigenesis and cancer progression. In addition to modifications of the epigenome, microRNA (miRNA) dysregulation is also a hallmark for cancer initiation and metastasis. Advances in our understanding of cancer biology demonstrate that alterations in the epigenome are not only a major cause of miRNA dysregulation in cancer, but that miRNAs themselves also indirectly drive these DNA and histone modifications. More explicitly, recent work has shown that miRNAs can regulate chromatin structure and gene expression by directly targeting key enzymes involved in these processes. This review aims to summarize these research findings specifically in the context of breast cancer. This review also discusses miRNAs as epigenetic biomarkers and as therapeutics, and presents a comprehensive summary of currently validated epigenetic targets in breast cancer.

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Published in Cancers, v. 11, issue 7, 897, p. 1-25.

© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

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This work was supported in part by a Research Scholar Grant (RGS-15-026-01-CSM) from the American Cancer Society to C.Y. B.H., PhD, was supported by an American Cancer Society–Michigan Cancer Research Fund Postdoctoral Fellowship (PF-18-236-01-CCG).