Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Gene regulator in brain's executive hub tracked across lifespan

Date:
February 2, 2012
Source:
NIH/National Institute of Mental Health
Summary:
Scientists have tracked the activity, across the lifespan, of an environmentally responsive regulatory mechanism that turns genes on and off in the brain's executive hub. Genes implicated in schizophrenia and autism are among those in which regulatory activity peaks during an environmentally-sensitive critical period in development. The mechanism, called DNA methylation, abruptly switches from off to on within the human brain's prefrontal cortex during this pivotal transition from fetal to postnatal life.

A representative gene showing how sex can influence levels of methylation across the lifespan. Each dot represents a different brain.
Credit: Barbara Lipska, Ph.D., NIMH Clinical Brain Disorders Branch

For the first time, scientists have tracked the activity, across the lifespan, of an environmentally responsive regulatory mechanism that turns genes on and off in the brain's executive hub. Among key findings of the study by National Institutes of Health scientists: genes implicated in schizophrenia and autism turn out to be members of a select club of genes in which regulatory activity peaks during an environmentally-sensitive critical period in development. The mechanism, called DNA methylation, abruptly switches from off to on within the human brain's prefrontal cortex during this pivotal transition from fetal to postnatal life. As methylation increases, gene expression slows down after birth.

Epigenetic mechanisms like methylation leave chemical instructions that tell genes what proteins to make -- what kind of tissue to produce or what functions to activate. Although not part of our DNA, these instructions are inherited from our parents. But they are also influenced by environmental factors, allowing for change throughout the lifespan.

"Developmental brain disorders may be traceable to altered methylation of genes early in life," explained Barbara Lipska, Ph.D., a scientist in the NIH's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and lead author of the study. "For example, genes that code for the enzymes that carry out methylation have been implicated in schizophrenia. In the prenatal brain, these genes help to shape developing circuitry for learning, memory and other executive functions which become disturbed in the disorders. Our study reveals that methylation in a family of these genes changes dramatically during the transition from fetal to postnatal life -- and that this process is influenced by methylation itself, as well as genetic variability. Regulation of these genes may be particularly sensitive to environmental influences during this critical early life period."

Lipska and colleagues report on the ebb and flow of the human prefrontal cortex's (PFC) epigenome across the lifespan, February 2, 2012, online in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

"This new study reminds us that genetic sequence is only part of the story of development. Epigenetics links nurture and nature, showing us when and where the environment can influence how the genetic sequence is read," said NIMH director Thomas R. Insel, M.D.

In a companion study published last October, the NIMH researchers traced expression of gene products in the PFC across the lifespan. The current study instead examined methylation at 27,000 sites within PFC genes that regulate such expression. Both studies examined post-mortem brains of non-psychiatrically impaired individuals ranging in age from two weeks after conception to 80 years old.

In most cases, when chemicals called methyl groups attach to regulatory regions of genes, they silence them. Usually, the more methylation, the less gene expression. Lipska's team found that the overall level of PFC methylation is low prenatally when gene expression is highest and then switches direction at birth, increasing as gene expression plummets in early childhood. It then levels off as we grow older. But methylation in some genes shows an opposite trajectory. The study found that methylation is strongly influenced by gender, age and genetic variation.

For example, methylation levels differed between males and females in 85 percent of X chromosome sites examined, which may help to explain sex differences in disorders like autism and schizophrenia.

Different genes -- and subsets of genes -- methylate at different ages. Some of the suspect genes found to peak in methylation around birth code for enzymes, called methytransferases, that are over-expressed in people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This process is influenced, in turn, by methylation in other genes, as well as by genetic variation. So genes associated with risk for such psychiatric disorders may influence gene expression through methylation in addition to inherited DNA.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NIH/National Institute of Mental Health. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Shusuke Numata, Tianzhang Ye, ThomasM. Hyde, Xavier Guitart-Navarro, Ran Tao, Michael Wininger, Carlo Colantuoni, DanielR. Weinberger, JoelE. Kleinman, BarbaraK. Lipska. DNA Methylation Signatures in Development and Aging of the Human Prefrontal Cortex. The American Journal of Human Genetics, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2011.12.020

Cite This Page:

NIH/National Institute of Mental Health. "Gene regulator in brain's executive hub tracked across lifespan." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 February 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120202151139.htm>.
NIH/National Institute of Mental Health. (2012, February 2). Gene regulator in brain's executive hub tracked across lifespan. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120202151139.htm
NIH/National Institute of Mental Health. "Gene regulator in brain's executive hub tracked across lifespan." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120202151139.htm (accessed September 18, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

The Cost of Ebola

The Cost of Ebola

Reuters - Business Video Online (Sep. 18, 2014) As Sierra Leone prepares for a three-day "lockdown" in its latest bid to stem the spread of Ebola, Ciara Lee looks at the financial implications of fighting the largest ever outbreak of the disease. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
What HealthKit Bug Means For Your iOS Fitness Apps

What HealthKit Bug Means For Your iOS Fitness Apps

Newsy (Sep. 18, 2014) Apple has delayed the launch of the HealthKit app platform, citing a bug. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Residents Vaccinated as Haiti Fights Cholera Epidemic

Residents Vaccinated as Haiti Fights Cholera Epidemic

AFP (Sep. 18, 2014) Haitians receive the second dose of the vaccine against cholera as part of the UN's vaccination campaign. Duration: 00:34 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Artificial Sweetener Could Promote Diabetes

Artificial Sweetener Could Promote Diabetes

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) Doctors once thought artificial sweeteners lacked the health risks of sugar, but a new study says they can impact blood sugar levels the same way. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins