Exposure to diet, drugs and early life adversity during sensitive windows of life 1,2 can lead to lasting changes in gene expression that contribute to the display of physiological and behavioural phenotypes. Such environmental programming is likely to increase the susceptibility to metabolic, cardiovascular and mental diseases 3,4.
DNA methylation and histone modifications are considered key processes in the mediation of the gene-environment dialogue and appear also to underlay environmental programming 5. In mammals, DNA methylation typically comprises the covalent addition of a methyl group at the 5-position of cytosine within the context of CpG dinucleotides.
CpG methylation occurs in a highly tissue- and cell-specific manner making it a challenge to study discrete, small regions of the brain where cellular heterogeneity is high and tissue quantity limited. Moreover, because gene expression and methylation are closely linked events, increased value can be gained by comparing both parameters in the same sample.
Here, a step-by-step protocol (Figure 1) for the investigation of epigenetic programming in the brain is presented using the 'maternal separation' paradigm of early life adversity for illustrative purposes. The protocol describes the preparation of micropunches from differentially-aged mouse brains from which DNA and RNA can be simultaneously isolated, thus allowing DNA methylation and gene expression analyses in the same sample.
Keywords: Neuroscience, Issue 65, Genetics, Physiology, Epigenetics, DNA methylation, early-life stress, maternal separation, bisulfite sequencing