Dr. Ehrlich is currently studying the epigenetics of muscle formation in cultured cells, one of the best in vitro models of mammalian differentiation. This research involves the integration of genome-wide data on DNA and chromatin epigenetics and corresponding expression analyses. Her lab has been using biopsy-derived myoblasts with and without differentiation to myotubes for mapping DNA methylation and open chromatin (DNaseI hypersensitive sites) throughout the human genome.
With bioinformatic tools, the data are correlated with genome-wide expression profiles (both exon microarray from myoblast strains grown in her lab and ENCODE RNA-seq data) and histone modification and ChIP-seq profiles of transcription factor binding to compare myoblasts, myotubes, and dozens of non-muscle cell types analyzed by identical methods. Molecular genetic studies are used for follow-up of selected drivers of differentiation. This research addresses both DNA methylation (5-methylcytosine) and the newly discovered hydroxymethylation (5-hydroxymethylcytosine) of mammalian DNA as well as normal vs. dystrophic myogenesis (FSHD, facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy). In addition, she is studying the DNA epigenetics of human cancer, a field in which her lab played a major pioneering role in the 1980's and 1990's. Currently, she is collaborating with Garth Rausher at the University of Illinois at Chicago in a 5-year breast cancer epigenetics project.