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These epigenetic changes may last through cell divisions for the duration of the cell's life, and may also last for multiple generations even though they do not involve changes in the underlying DNA sequence of the organism; One example of an epigenetic change in eukaryotic biology is the process of cellular differentiation.

The "epigenome" is a parallel to the word "genome", referring to the overall epigenetic state of a cell, and epigenomics refers to more global analyses of epigenetic changes across the entire genome.Epigenetic changes modify the activation of certain genes, but not the genetic code sequence of DNA.The microstructure (not code) of DNA itself or the associated chromatin proteins may be modified, causing activation or silencing.Examples of mechanisms that produce such changes are DNA methylation and histone modification, each of which alters how genes are expressed without altering the underlying DNA sequence.Gene expression can be controlled through the action of repressor proteins that attach to silencer regions of the DNA.The standard definition of epigenetics requires these alterations to be heritable, either in the progeny of cells or of organisms.

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