Friday, January 18, 2013

How environments talk to genes.

The January issue of Nature Neuroscience has some fascinating articles on gene-environment interactions. Vassoler et al. report that in rats paternal cocaine use causes a heritable increase in cortical brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Bdnf) gene expression, which then confers a cocaine-resistant phenotype in male, but not female, progeny (The sins of the father are forgiven!):

We delineated a heritable phenotype resulting from the self-administration of cocaine in rats. We observed delayed acquisition and reduced maintenance of cocaine self-administration in male, but not female, offspring of sires that self-administered cocaine. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Bdnf) mRNA and BDNF protein were increased in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), and there was an increased association of acetylated histone H3 with Bdnf promoters in only the male offspring of cocaine-experienced sires. Administration of a BDNF receptor antagonist (the TrkB receptor antagonist ANA-12) reversed the diminished cocaine self-administration in male cocaine-sired rats. In addition, the association of acetylated histone H3 with Bdnf promoters was increased in the sperm of sires that self-administered cocaine. Collectively, these findings indicate that voluntary paternal ingestion of cocaine results in epigenetic reprogramming of the germline, having profound effects on mPFC gene expression and resistance to cocaine reinforcement in male offspring.
And, Klengel et al. find a molecular mechanism in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder: demethylation of a glucocorticoid response element in the stress response regulator FKBP5 that depends on both the risk allele and childhood trauma. Here is the jargon:
Although the fact that genetic predisposition and environmental exposures interact to shape development and function of the human brain and, ultimately, the risk of psychiatric disorders has drawn wide interest, the corresponding molecular mechanisms have not yet been elucidated. We found that a functional polymorphism altering chromatin interaction between the transcription start site and long-range enhancers in the FK506 binding protein 5 (FKBP5) gene, an important regulator of the stress hormone system, increased the risk of developing stress-related psychiatric disorders in adulthood by allele-specific, childhood trauma–dependent DNA demethylation in functional glucocorticoid response elements of FKBP5. This demethylation was linked to increased stress-dependent gene transcription followed by a long-term dysregulation of the stress hormone system and a global effect on the function of immune cells and brain areas associated with stress regulation. This identification of molecular mechanisms of genotype-directed long-term environmental reactivity will be useful for designing more effective treatment strategies for stress-related disorders.

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