Epigenetic control of vasopressin expression is maintained by steroid hormones in the adult male rat brain.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Mar 8;108(10):4242-7. Epub 2011 Feb 22. PMID: 21368111
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Training Program, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org
Although some DNA methylation patterns are altered by steroid hormone exposure in the developing brain, less is known about how changes in steroid hormone levels influence DNA methylation patterns in the adult brain. Steroid hormones act in the adult brain to regulate gene expression. Specifically, the expression of the socially relevant peptide vasopressin (AVP) within the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST) of adult brain is dependent upon testosterone exposure. Castration dramatically reduces and testosterone replacement restores AVP expression within the BST. As decreases in mRNA expression are associated with increases in DNA promoter methylation, we explored the hypothesis that AVP expression in the adult brain is maintained through sustained epigenetic modifications of the AVP gene promoter. We find that castration of adult male rats resulted in decreased AVP mRNA expression and increased methylation of specific CpG sites within the AVP promoter in the BST. Similarly, castration significantly increased estrogen receptorα (ERα) mRNA expression and decreased ERα promoter methylation within the BST. These changes were prevented by testosterone replacement. This suggests that the DNA promoter methylation status of some steroid responsive genes in the adult brain is actively maintained by the presence of circulatingsteroid hormones. The maintenance of methylated or demethylated states of some genes in the adult brain by the presence of steroid hormones may play a role in the homeostatic regulation of behaviorally relevant systems.