PhD Student, Memorial University
It is well known that traumatic stress can have deleterious effects on an individual. Recent data suggests that these harmful effects can propagate into future generations, making offspring more prone to mental illness (i.e. anxiety, depression and/or posttraumatic stress disorder). While recent data from the animal literature supports transgenerational effects of stress, little is known regarding the consequences of pre-conception stress on adolescent offspring. Furthermore, whether these changes persist into adulthood and make offspring more susceptible to future stressors is not known. Male and female mice were exposed to a predator (live rat-predator stress) or control condition for five minutes. Mice exposed to a live rat show increased anxiety-like behavior compared to the control mice. Ten days later, stressed male mice were bred to stressed female mice and control male mice were bred to control female mice. On postnatal day (PND 24), all offspring underwent a behavioural battery to assess anxiety, depressive-like behaviour, and hyperarousal. We show that pre-conception predator stress increases anxiety-like behaviour as measured in the elevated plus maze, light/dark box, social anxiety test, and increased hyperarousal in adolescent offspring. At adulthood (PND 60), all mice were subjected to a mild stressor and assessed for anxiety-, depressive-like behaviours, and hyperarousal. Pre-conception stress increased anxiety-like behaviour in adult offspring exposed to a mild stressor indicating enhanced stress-susceptibility in these adult offspring. Overall, our data suggest that traumatic stress not only affects an individual, but it can alter the behavioural responses of future generations. Currently, we are assessing the effects of pre-conception stress on the physiological, endocrine, and molecular changes in adolescent and adult offspring. Ultimately, identification of the mechanisms that promote anxiety in children, as well as increased stress-susceptibility in adulthood, will represent a major advance in the field, and may lead to novel treatments for such devastating, and often treatment-resistant disorders.
Abstract: In the mammalian genome, DNA methylation is an epigenetic mechanism involving the transfer of a methyl group onto the C5 position of the cytosine to form 5-methylcytosine. DNA methylation regulates gene expression by recruiting proteins involved in gene repression or by inhibiting the binding of transcription factor(s) to DNA. During development, the pattern of DNA methylation in the genome changes as a result of a dynamic process involving both de novo DNA methylation and demethylation. As a consequence, differentiated cells develop a stable and unique DNA methylation pattern that regulates tissue-specific gene transcription. In this chapter, we will review the process of DNA methylation and demethylation in the nervous system. We will describe the DNA (de)methylation machinery and its association with other epigenetic mechanisms such as histone modifications and noncoding RNAs. Intriguingly, postmitotic neurons still express DNA methyltransferases and components involved in DNA demethylation. Moreover, neuronal activity can modulate their pattern of DNA methylation in response to physiological and environmental stimuli. The precise regulation of DNA methylation is essential for normal cognitive function. Indeed, when DNA methylation is altered as a result of developmental mutations or environmental risk factors, such as drug exposure and neural injury, mental impairment is a common side effect. The investigation into DNA methylation continues to show a rich and complex picture about epigenetic gene regulation in the central nervous system and provides possible therapeutic targets for the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders.
Pub.: 12 Jul '12, Pinned: 31 Jul '17
Abstract: Differential effects of maternal and paternal posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been observed in adult offspring of Holocaust survivors in both glucocorticoid receptor sensitivity and vulnerability to psychiatric disorder. The authors examined the relative influences of maternal and paternal PTSD on DNA methylation of the exon 1F promoter of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR-1F) gene (NR3C1) in peripheral blood mononuclear cells and its relationship to glucocorticoid receptor sensitivity in Holocaust offspring.Adult offspring with at least one Holocaust survivor parent (N=80) and demographically similar participants without parental Holocaust exposure or parental PTSD (N=15) completed clinical interviews, self-report measures, and biological procedures. Blood samples were collected for analysis of GR-1F promoter methylation and of cortisol levels in response to low-dose dexamethasone, and two-way analysis of covariance was performed using maternal and paternal PTSD as main effects. Hierarchical clustering analysis was used to permit visualization of maternal compared with paternal PTSD effects on clinical variables and GR-1F promoter methylation.A significant interaction demonstrated that in the absence of maternal PTSD, offspring with paternal PTSD showed higher GR-1F promoter methylation, whereas offspring with both maternal and paternal PTSD showed lower methylation. Lower GR-1F promoter methylation was significantly associated with greater postdexamethasone cortisol suppression. The clustering analysis revealed that maternal and paternal PTSD effects were differentially associated with clinical indicators and GR-1F promoter methylation.This is the first study to demonstrate alterations of GR-1F promoter methylation in relation to parental PTSD and neuroendocrine outcomes. The moderation of paternal PTSD effects by maternal PTSD suggests different mechanisms for the intergenerational transmission of trauma-related vulnerabilities.
Pub.: 17 May '14, Pinned: 04 Jul '17
Abstract: Epigenetics, the transgenerational transfer of phenotypic characters without modification of gene sequence, is a burgeoning area of study in many disciplines of biology. However, the potential impact of this phenomenon on the physiology of animals is not yet broadly appreciated, in part because the phenomenon of epigenetics is not typically part of the design of physiological investigations. Still enigmatic and somewhat ill defined is the relationship between the overarching concept of epigenetics and interesting transgenerational phenomena (e.g. 'maternal/parental effects') that alter the physiological phenotype of subsequent generations. The lingering effect on subsequent generations of an initial environmental disturbance in parent animals can be profound, with genes continuing to be variously silenced or expressed without an associated change in gene sequence for many generations. Known epigenetic mechanisms involved in this phenomenon include chromatin remodeling (DNA methylation and histone modification), RNA-mediated modifications (non-coding RNA and microRNA), as well as other less well studied mechanisms such as self-sustaining loops and structural inheritance. In this review we: (1) discuss how the concepts of epigenetics and maternal effects both overlap with, and are distinct from, each other; (2) analyze examples of existing animal physiological studies based on these concepts; and (3) offer a construct by which to integrate these concepts into the design of future investigations in animal physiology.
Pub.: 17 Dec '09, Pinned: 04 Jul '17
Abstract: Using olfactory molecular specificity, we examined the inheritance of parental traumatic exposure, a phenomenon that has been frequently observed, but not understood. We subjected F0 mice to odor fear conditioning before conception and found that subsequently conceived F1 and F2 generations had an increased behavioral sensitivity to the F0-conditioned odor, but not to other odors. When an odor (acetophenone) that activates a known odorant receptor (Olfr151) was used to condition F0 mice, the behavioral sensitivity of the F1 and F2 generations to acetophenone was complemented by an enhanced neuroanatomical representation of the Olfr151 pathway. Bisulfite sequencing of sperm DNA from conditioned F0 males and F1 naive offspring revealed CpG hypomethylation in the Olfr151 gene. In addition, in vitro fertilization, F2 inheritance and cross-fostering revealed that these transgenerational effects are inherited via parental gametes. Our findings provide a framework for addressing how environmental information may be inherited transgenerationally at behavioral, neuroanatomical and epigenetic levels.
Pub.: 03 Dec '13, Pinned: 04 Jul '17