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Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior

Nature Neuroscience volume 7, pages 847854 (2004) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Here we report that increased pup licking and grooming (LG) and arched-back nursing (ABN) by rat mothers altered the offspring epigenome at a glucocorticoid receptor (GR) gene promoter in the hippocampus. Offspring of mothers that showed high levels of LG and ABN were found to have differences in DNA methylation, as compared to offspring of 'low-LG-ABN' mothers. These differences emerged over the first week of life, were reversed with cross-fostering, persisted into adulthood and were associated with altered histone acetylation and transcription factor (NGFI-A) binding to the GR promoter. Central infusion of a histone deacetylase inhibitor removed the group differences in histone acetylation, DNA methylation, NGFI-A binding, GR expression and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) responses to stress, suggesting a causal relation among epigenomic state, GR expression and the maternal effect on stress responses in the offspring. Thus we show that an epigenomic state of a gene can be established through behavioral programming, and it is potentially reversible.

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Change history

  • 27 July 2004

    added footnote and footnote references to figures within text; updated Figure 1; corrected online date made to issue version of PDF

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Acknowledgements

These studies were supported by a grant from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) to M.J.M. and M.S. and from the National Cancer Institute of Canada to M.S. M.J.M. is supported by a CIHR Senior Scientist award and the project was supported by a Distinguished Investigator Award (M.J.M.) from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Affective Disorders (NARSAD).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Douglas Hospital Research Center, 6875 LaSalle Blvd., Montréal, Québec H4H 1R3, Canada.

    • Ian C G Weaver
    • , Frances A Champagne
    • , Shakti Sharma
    •  & Michael J Meaney
  2. McGill Program for the Study of Behaviour, Genes and Environment, McGill University, 3655 Sir William Osler Promenade, Montréal, Québec H3G 1Y6, Canada.

    • Ian C G Weaver
    • , Frances A Champagne
    • , Moshe Szyf
    •  & Michael J Meaney
  3. Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University, 3655 Sir William Osler Promenade, Montréal, Québec H3G 1Y6, Canada.

    • Nadia Cervoni
    • , Ana C D'Alessio
    • , Sergiy Dymov
    •  & Moshe Szyf
  4. Molecular Medicine Centre, Edinburgh University, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh EH4 2XU, UK.

    • Jonathan R Seckl

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Moshe Szyf or Michael J Meaney.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nn1276

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