As the most stable and experimentally accessible epigenetic mark, DNA methylation is of great interest to the research community. The landscape of DNA methylation across tissues, through development and in disease pathogenesis is not yet well characterized. Thus there is a need for rapid and cost effective methods for assessing genome-wide levels of DNA methylation. The Illumina Infinium HumanMethylation450 (450K) BeadChip is a very useful addition to the available methods for DNA methylation analysis but its complex design, incorporating two different assay methods, requires careful consideration. Accordingly, several normalization schemes have been published. We have taken advantage of known DNA methylation patterns associated with genomic imprinting and X-chromosome inactivation (XCI), in addition to the performance of SNP genotyping assays present on the array, to derive three independent metrics which we use to test alternative schemes of correction and normalization. These metrics also have potential utility as quality scores for datasets.
The standard index of DNA methylation at any specific CpG site is β = M/(M + U + 100) where M and U are methylated and unmethylated signal intensities, respectively. Betas (βs) calculated from raw signal intensities (the default GenomeStudio behavior) perform well, but using 11 methylomic datasets we demonstrate that quantile normalization methods produce marked improvement, even in highly consistent data, by all three metrics. The commonly used procedure of normalizing betas is inferior to the separate normalization of M and U, and it is also advantageous to normalize Type I and Type II assays separately. More elaborate manipulation of quantiles proves to be counterproductive.
Careful selection of preprocessing steps can minimize variance and thus improve statistical power, especially for the detection of the small absolute DNA methylation changes likely associated with complex disease phenotypes. For the convenience of the research community we have created a user-friendly R software package called wateRmelon, downloadable from bioConductor, compatible with the existing methylumi, minfi and IMA packages, that allows others to utilize the same normalization methods and data quality tests on 450K data.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a common, highly heritable neuro-developmental condition characterized by marked genetic heterogeneity1–3. Thus, a fundamental question is whether autism represents an etiologically heterogeneous disorder in which the myriad genetic or environmental risk factors perturb common underlying molecular pathways in the brain4. Here, we demonstrate consistent differences in transcriptome organization between autistic and normal brain by gene co-expression network analysis. Remarkably, regional patterns of gene expression that typically distinguish frontal and temporal cortex are significantly attenuated in the ASD brain, suggesting abnormalities in cortical patterning. We further identify discrete modules of co-expressed genes associated with autism: a neuronal module enriched for known autism susceptibility genes, including the neuronal specific splicing factor A2BP1/FOX1, and a module enriched for immune genes and glial markers. Using high-throughput RNA-sequencing we demonstrate dysregulated splicing of A2BP1-dependent alternative exons in ASD brain. Moreover, using a published autism GWAS dataset, we show that the neuronal module is enriched for genetically associated variants, providing independent support for the causal involvement of these genes in autism. In contrast, the immune-glial module showed no enrichment for autism GWAS signals, indicating a non-genetic etiology for this process. Collectively, our results provide strong evidence for convergent molecular abnormalities in ASD, and implicate transcriptional and splicing dysregulation as underlying mechanisms of neuronal dysfunction in this disorder.
IGF2 is a paternally expressed imprinted gene with an important role in development and brain function. Allele-specific expression of IGF2 is regulated by DNA methylation at three differentially methylated regions (DMRs) spanning the IGF2/H19 domain on human 11p15.5. We have comprehensively assessed DNA methylation and genotype across the three DMRs and the H19 promoter using tissue from a unique collection of well-characterized and neuropathologically-dissected post-mortem human cerebellum samples (n = 106) and frontal cortex samples (n = 51). We show that DNA methylation, particularly in the vicinity of a key CTCF-binding site (CTCF3) in the imprinting control region (ICR) upstream of H19, is strongly correlated with cerebellum weight. DNA methylation at CTCF3 uniquely explains ∼25% of the variance in cerebellum weight. In addition, we report that genetic variation in this ICR is strongly associated with cerebellum weight in a parental-origin specific manner, with maternally-inherited alleles associated with a 16% increase in cerebellum weight compared with paternally-inherited alleles. Given the link between structural brain abnormalities and neuropsychiatric disease, an understanding of the epigenetic and parent-of-origin specific genetic factors associated with brain morphology provides important clues about the etiology of disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.
epigenetic; DNA methylation; genomic imprinting; cerebellum; IGF2; H19; brain; expression; frontal cortex; genetic; single nucleotide polymorphism
Increased understanding about the functional complexity of the genome has led to growing recognition about the role of epigenetic variation in the etiology of schizophrenia. Epigenetic processes act to dynamically control gene expression independently of DNA sequence variation and are known to regulate key neurobiological and cognitive processes in the brain. To date, our knowledge about the role of epigenetic processes in schizophrenia is limited and based on analyses of small numbers of samples obtained from a range of different cell and tissue types. Moving forward, it will be important to establish cause and effect in epigenetic studies of schizophrenia and broaden our horizons beyond DNA methylation. Rather than investigating genetic and epigenetic factors independently, an integrative etiological research paradigm based on the combination of genomic, transcriptomic, and epigenomic analyses is required.
schizophrenia; epigenetics; DNA methylation; genetics; epidemiology
Mounting evidence suggest that epigenetic regulation of brain functions is important in the etiology of psychiatric disorders. These epigenetic regulatory mechanisms, such as DNA methylation and histone acetylation, are influenced by many pharmaceutical compounds including psychiatric drugs. It is therefore of interest to investigate how psychiatric drugs are of influence and what the potential is of new epigenetic drugs for psychiatric disorders. With this targeted review we summarize the current state of knowledge in order to provide insight in this developing field. Several traditional psychiatric drugs have been found to alter the epigenome and in a variety of animal studies, experimental compounds with epigenetic targets have been investigated as potential psychiatric drugs. After discussion of the most relevant epigenetic mechanisms we present the evidence for epigenetic effects for the most relevant classes of drugs.
BDNF; DNA Methylation; DNMT inhibitors; epigenetics; HDAC inhibitors; Histone Modifications; neuropharmacology; psychiatry; psychotropics; treatment
Insulin-like growth factor 2 (Igf2) is a paternally expressed imprinted gene regulating fetal growth, playing an integral role in the development of many tissues including the brain. The parent-of-origin specific expression of Igf2 is largely controlled by allele-specific DNA methylation at CTCF-binding sites in the imprinting control region (ICR), located immediately upstream of the neighboring H19 gene. Previously we reported evidence of a negative correlation between DNA methylation in this region and cerebellum weight in humans.
We quantified cerebellar DNA methylation across all four CTCF binding sites spanning the murine Igf2/H19 ICR in an outbred population of Heterogeneous Stock (HS) mice (n = 48). We observe that DNA methylation at the second and third CTCF binding sites in the Igf2/H19 ICR shows a negative relationship with cerebellar mass, reflecting the association observed in human post-mortem cerebellum tissue.
Given the important role of the cerebellum in motor control and cognition, and the link between structural cerebellar abnormalities and neuropsychiatric phenotypes, the identification of epigenetic factors associated with cerebellum growth and development may provide important insights about the etiology of psychiatric disorders.
Igf2; H19; Epigenetics; DNA methylation; Cerebellum; Brain; Mouse; Genotype; Genomic imprinting
Cyclin-dependent kinase 5 is activated by small subunits, of which p35 is the most abundant. The functions of cyclin-dependent kinase 5 signalling in cognition and cognitive disorders remains unclear. Here, we show that in schizophrenia, a disorder associated with impaired cognition, p35 expression is reduced in relevant brain regions. Additionally, the expression of septin 7 and OPA1, proteins downstream of truncated p35, is decreased in schizophrenia. Mimicking a reduction of p35 in heterozygous knockout mice is associated with cognitive endophenotypes. Furthermore, a reduction of p35 in mice results in protein changes similar to schizophrenia post-mortem brain. Hence, heterozygous p35 knockout mice model both cognitive endophenotypes and molecular changes reminiscent of schizophrenia. These changes correlate with reduced acetylation of the histone deacetylase 1 target site H3K18 in mice. This site has previously been shown to be affected by truncated p35. By restoring H3K18 acetylation with the clinically used specific histone deacetylase 1 inhibitor MS-275 both cognitive and molecular endophenotypes of schizophrenia can be rescued in p35 heterozygous knockout mice. In summary, we suggest that reduced p35 expression in schizophrenia has an impact on synaptic protein expression and cognition and that these deficits can be rescued, at least in part, by the inhibition of histone deacetylase 1.
animal models; brain; cognition; schizophrenia; signalling
Dynamic changes to the epigenome play a critical role in establishing and maintaining cellular phenotype during differentiation, but little is known about the normal methylomic differences that occur between functionally distinct areas of the brain. We characterized intra- and inter-individual methylomic variation across whole blood and multiple regions of the brain from multiple donors.
Distinct tissue-specific patterns of DNA methylation were identified, with a highly significant over-representation of tissue-specific differentially methylated regions (TS-DMRs) observed at intragenic CpG islands and low CG density promoters. A large proportion of TS-DMRs were located near genes that are differentially expressed across brain regions. TS-DMRs were significantly enriched near genes involved in functional pathways related to neurodevelopment and neuronal differentiation, including BDNF, BMP4, CACNA1A, CACA1AF, EOMES, NGFR, NUMBL, PCDH9, SLIT1, SLITRK1 and SHANK3. Although between-tissue variation in DNA methylation was found to greatly exceed between-individual differences within any one tissue, we found that some inter-individual variation was reflected across brain and blood, indicating that peripheral tissues may have some utility in epidemiological studies of complex neurobiological phenotypes.
This study reinforces the importance of DNA methylation in regulating cellular phenotype across tissues, and highlights genomic patterns of epigenetic variation across functionally distinct regions of the brain, providing a resource for the epigenetics and neuroscience research communities.
Dopamine receptor D4(DRD4) polymorphisms have been associated with a number of psychiatric disorders, but little is known about the mechanism of these associations. DNA methylation is linked to the regulation of gene expression and plays a vital role in normal cellular function, with abnormal DNA methylation patterns implicated in a range of disorders. Recent evidence suggests DNA methylation can be influenced by cis-acting DNA sequence variation, that is, DNA sequence variation located nearby on the same chromosome.
To investigate the potential influence of cis-acting genetic elements within DRD4, we analysed DRD4 promoter DNA methylation levels in the transformed lymphoblastoid cell-line DNA of 89 individuals (from 30 family-trios). Five SNPs located +/− 10kb of the promoter region were interrogated for associations with DNA methylation levels.
Four significant SNP associations were found with DNA methylation (rs3758653, rs752306, rs11246228 and rs936465). The associations of rs3758653 and rs936465 with DNA methylation were tested and nominally replicated (p-value < 0.05) in post-mortem brain tissue from an independent sample (N = 18). Interestingly, the DNA methylation patterns observed in post-mortem brain tissue were similar to those observed in transformed lymphoblastoid cell line DNA.
The link reported between DNA sequence and DNA methylation offers a possible functional role to seemingly non-functional SNP associations. DRD4 has been implicated in several psychiatric disease phenotypes and our results shed light upon the possible mode of action of SNP associations in this region.
Age-related changes in DNA methylation have been implicated in cellular senescence and longevity, yet the causes and functional consequences of these variants remain unclear. To elucidate the role of age-related epigenetic changes in healthy ageing and potential longevity, we tested for association between whole-blood DNA methylation patterns in 172 female twins aged 32 to 80 with age and age-related phenotypes. Twin-based DNA methylation levels at 26,690 CpG-sites showed evidence for mean genome-wide heritability of 18%, which was supported by the identification of 1,537 CpG-sites with methylation QTLs in cis at FDR 5%. We performed genome-wide analyses to discover differentially methylated regions (DMRs) for sixteen age-related phenotypes (ap-DMRs) and chronological age (a-DMRs). Epigenome-wide association scans (EWAS) identified age-related phenotype DMRs (ap-DMRs) associated with LDL (STAT5A), lung function (WT1), and maternal longevity (ARL4A, TBX20). In contrast, EWAS for chronological age identified hundreds of predominantly hyper-methylated age DMRs (490 a-DMRs at FDR 5%), of which only one (TBX20) was also associated with an age-related phenotype. Therefore, the majority of age-related changes in DNA methylation are not associated with phenotypic measures of healthy ageing in later life. We replicated a large proportion of a-DMRs in a sample of 44 younger adult MZ twins aged 20 to 61, suggesting that a-DMRs may initiate at an earlier age. We next explored potential genetic and environmental mechanisms underlying a-DMRs and ap-DMRs. Genome-wide overlap across cis-meQTLs, genotype-phenotype associations, and EWAS ap-DMRs identified CpG-sites that had cis-meQTLs with evidence for genotype–phenotype association, where the CpG-site was also an ap-DMR for the same phenotype. Monozygotic twin methylation difference analyses identified one potential environmentally-mediated ap-DMR associated with total cholesterol and LDL (CSMD1). Our results suggest that in a small set of genes DNA methylation may be a candidate mechanism of mediating not only environmental, but also genetic effects on age-related phenotypes.
Epigenetic patterns vary during healthy ageing and development. Age-related DNA methylation changes have been implicated in cellular senescence and longevity, yet the causes and functional consequences of these variants remain unclear. To understand the biological mechanisms involved in potential longevity and rate of healthy ageing, we performed genome-wide association of epigenetic and genetic variation with both chronological age and age-related phenotypes. We identified hundreds of DNA methylation variants significantly associated with age and replicated these in an independent sample of young adult twins. Only a small proportion of these variants were also associated with age-related phenotypes. Therefore, the majority of age-related epigenetic changes do not contribute to rate of healthy ageing at later stages in life. Our results suggest that age-related changes in methylation occur throughout an individual's lifespan and that a proportion of these may be initiated from an early age. Intriguingly, a fraction of the age differentially methylated regions also associated with genetic variants in our sample, suggesting that DNA methylation may be a candidate mechanism of mediating not only environmental but also genetic effects on age-related phenotypes.
Studies of the major psychoses, schizophrenia (SZ) and bipolar disorder (BD), have traditionally focused on genetic and environmental risk factors, although more recent work has highlighted an additional role for epigenetic processes in mediating susceptibility. Since monozygotic (MZ) twins share a common DNA sequence, their study represents an ideal design for investigating the contribution of epigenetic factors to disease etiology. We performed a genome-wide analysis of DNA methylation on peripheral blood DNA samples obtained from a unique sample of MZ twin pairs discordant for major psychosis. Numerous loci demonstrated disease-associated DNA methylation differences between twins discordant for SZ and BD individually, and together as a combined major psychosis group. Pathway analysis of our top loci highlighted a significant enrichment of epigenetic changes in biological networks and pathways directly relevant to psychiatric disorder and neurodevelopment. The top psychosis-associated, differentially methylated region, significantly hypomethylated in affected twins, was located in the promoter of ST6GALNAC1 overlapping a previously reported rare genomic duplication observed in SZ. The mean DNA methylation difference at this locus was 6%, but there was considerable heterogeneity between families, with some twin pairs showing a 20% difference in methylation. We subsequently assessed this region in an independent sample of postmortem brain tissue from affected individuals and controls, finding marked hypomethylation (>25%) in a subset of psychosis patients. Overall, our data provide further evidence to support a role for DNA methylation differences in mediating phenotypic differences between MZ twins and in the etiology of both SZ and BD.
DNA methylation is a key epigenetic mechanism involved in the developmental regulation of gene expression. Alterations in DNA methylation are established contributors to inter-individual phenotypic variation and have been associated with disease susceptibility. The degree to which changes in loci-specific DNA methylation are under the influence of heritable and environmental factors is largely unknown. In this study, we quantitatively measured DNA methylation across the promoter regions of the dopamine receptor 4 gene (DRD4), the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4/SERT) and the X-linked monoamine oxidase A gene (MAOA) using DNA sampled at both ages 5 and 10 years in 46 MZ twinpairs and 45 DZ twin-pairs (total n = 182). Our data suggest that DNA methylation differences are apparent already in early childhood, even between genetically identical individuals, and that individual differences in methylation are not stable over time. Our longitudinal-developmental study suggests that environmental influences are important factors accounting for interindividual DNA methylation differences, and that these influences differ across the genome. The observation of dynamic changes in DNA methylation over time highlights the importance of longitudinal research designs for epigenetic research.
epigenetics; DNA methylation; twin; heritability; dynamic; environment
X-chromosome inactivation (XCI) is a pivotal epigenetic mechanism involved in the dosage compensation of X-linked genes between males and females. In any given cell, the process of XCI in early female development is thought to be random across alleles and clonally maintained once established. Recent studies, however, suggest that XCI might not always be random and that skewed inactivation may become more prevalent with age. The factors influencing such XCI skewing and its changes over time are largely unknown. To elucidate the influence of stochastic, heritable and environmental factors in longitudinal changes in XCI, we examined X inactivation profiles in a sample of monozygotic (MZ) (n = 23) and dizygotic (DZ) (n = 22) female twin-pairs at ages 5 and 10 years. Compared to MZ twins who were highly concordant for allelic XCI ratios, DZ twins showed much lower levels of concordance. Whilst XCI patterns were moderately stable between ages 5 and 10 years, there was some drift over time with an increased prevalence of more extreme XCI skewing at age 10. To our knowledge, this study represents the earliest longitudinal assessment of skewed XCI patterns, and suggests that skewed XCI may already be established in early childhood. Our data also suggest a link between MZ twinning and the establishment of allelic XCI ratios, and demonstrate that acquired skewing in XCI after establishment is primarily mediated by stochastic mechanisms. These data have implications for our understanding about sex differences in complex disease, and the potential causes of phenotypic discordance between MZ female twins.
Recent multi-dimensional approaches to the study of complex disease have revealed powerful insights into how genetic and epigenetic factors may underlie their aetiopathogenesis. We examined genotype-epigenotype interactions in the context of Type 2 Diabetes (T2D), focussing on known regions of genomic susceptibility. We assayed DNA methylation in 60 females, stratified according to disease susceptibility haplotype using previously identified association loci. CpG methylation was assessed using methylated DNA immunoprecipitation on a targeted array (MeDIP-chip) and absolute methylation values were estimated using a Bayesian algorithm (BATMAN). Absolute methylation levels were quantified across LD blocks, and we identified increased DNA methylation on the FTO obesity susceptibility haplotype, tagged by the rs8050136 risk allele A (p = 9.40×10−4, permutation p = 1.0×10−3). Further analysis across the 46 kb LD block using sliding windows localised the most significant difference to be within a 7.7 kb region (p = 1.13×10−7). Sequence level analysis, followed by pyrosequencing validation, revealed that the methylation difference was driven by the co-ordinated phase of CpG-creating SNPs across the risk haplotype. This 7.7 kb region of haplotype-specific methylation (HSM), encapsulates a Highly Conserved Non-Coding Element (HCNE) that has previously been validated as a long-range enhancer, supported by the histone H3K4me1 enhancer signature. This study demonstrates that integration of Genome-Wide Association (GWA) SNP and epigenomic DNA methylation data can identify potential novel genotype-epigenotype interactions within disease-associated loci, thus providing a novel route to aid unravelling common complex diseases.
The major psychotic disorders schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are etiologically complex involving both heritable and nonheritable factors. The absence of consistently replicated major genetic effects, together with evidence for lasting changes in gene expression after environmental exposures, is consistent with the concept that the biologic underpinnings of these disorders are epigenetic in form rather than DNA sequence based. Psychosis-associated environmental exposures, particularly at key developmental stages, may result in long-lasting epigenetic alterations that impact on the neurobiological processes involved in pathology. Although direct evidence for epigenetic dysfunction in both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder is still limited, methodological technologies in epigenomic profiling have advanced. This means that we are at the exciting stage where it is feasible to start investigating molecular modifications to DNA and histones and examine the mechanisms by which environmental factors can act upon the genome to bring about epigenetic changes in gene expression involved in the etiology of these disorders. Given the dynamic nature of the epigenetic machinery and potential reversibility of epigenetic modifications, the understanding of such mechanisms is of key relevance for clinical psychiatry and for identifying new targets for prevention and/or intervention.
DNA methylation; histone modifications; development; schizophrenia; bipolar disorder; gene-environment interaction
Across the genome, outside of a small number of known imprinted genes and regions subject to X-inactivation in females, DNA methylation at CpG dinucleotides is often assumed to be complementary across both alleles in a diploid cell. However, recent findings suggest the reality is more complex, with the discovery that allele-specific methylation (ASM) is a common feature across the human genome. A key observation is that the majority of ASM is associated with genetic variation in cis, although a noticeable proportion is also non-cis in nature and mediated, for example, by parental origin. ASM appears to be both quantitative, characterized by subtle skewing of DNA methylation between alleles, and heterogeneous, varying across tissues and between individuals. These findings have important implications for complex disease genetics; while cis-mediated ASM provides a functional consequence for non-coding genetic variation, heterogeneous and quantitative ASM complicates the identification of disease-associated loci. We propose that non-cis ASM could contribute toward the “missing heritability” of complex diseases, rendering certain loci hemizygous and masking the direct association between genotype and phenotype. We suggest that the interpretation of results from genome-wide association studies can be improved by the incorporation of epi-allelic information and that in order to fully understand the extent and consequence of ASM in the human genome, a comprehensive sequencing-based analysis of allelic methylation patterns across tissues and individuals is required.
DNA methylation; allelespecific methylation; allele-specific expression; tissue-specific methylation; epigenetics; imprinting; genome-wide association study (GWAS); genetics; complex disease; missing heritability
Accumulating evidence from epidemiological research has demonstrated an association between advanced paternal age and risk for several psychiatric disorders including autism, schizophrenia and early-onset bipolar disorder. In order to establish causality, this study used an animal model to investigate the effects of advanced paternal age on behavioural deficits in the offspring.
C57BL/6J offspring (n = 12 per group) were bred from fathers of two different ages, 2 months (young) and 10 months (old), and mothers aged 2 months (n = 6 breeding pairs per group). Social and exploratory behaviors were examined in the offspring.
The offspring of older fathers were found to engage in significantly less social (p = 0.02) and exploratory (p = 0.02) behaviors than the offspring of younger fathers. There were no significant differences in measures of motor activity.
Given the well-controlled nature of this study, this provides the strongest evidence for deleterious effects of advancing paternal age on social and exploratory behavior. De-novo chromosomal changes and/or inherited epigenetic changes are the most plausible explanatory factors.
DNA methylation plays a vital role in normal cellular function, with aberrant methylation signatures being implicated in a growing number of human pathologies and complex human traits. Methods based on the modification of genomic DNA with sodium bisulfite are considered the 'gold-standard' for DNA methylation profiling on genomic DNA; however, they require relatively large amounts of DNA and may be prohibitively expensive when used on the large sample sizes necessary to detect small effects. We propose that a high-throughput DNA pooling approach will facilitate the use of emerging methylomic profiling techniques in large samples.
Compared with data generated from 89 individual samples, our analysis of 205 CpG sites spanning nine independent regions of the genome demonstrates that DNA pools can be used to provide an accurate and reliable quantitative estimate of average group DNA methylation. Comparison of data generated from the pooled DNA samples with results averaged across the individual samples comprising each pool revealed highly significant correlations for individual CpG sites across all nine regions, with an average overall correlation across all regions and pools of 0.95 (95% bootstrapped confidence intervals: 0.94 to 0.96).
In this study we demonstrate the validity of using pooled DNA samples to accurately assess group DNA methylation averages. Such an approach can be readily applied to the assessment of disease phenotypes reducing the time, cost and amount of DNA starting material required for large-scale epigenetic analyses.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a complex neurobehavioral disorder. The dopamine transporter gene (DAT1/SLC6A3) has been considered a good candidate for ADHD. Most association studies with ADHD have investigated the 40-base-pair variable number of tandem repeat (VNTR) polymorphism in the 3'-untranslated region of DAT1. Only few studies have reported association between promoter polymorphisms of the gene and ADHD.
To investigate the association between the polymorphisms -67A/T (rs2975226) and -839C/T (rs2652511) in promoter region of DAT1 in ADHD, two samples of ADHD patients from the UK (n = 197) and Taiwan (n = 212) were genotyped, and analysed using within-family transmission disequilibrium test (TDT).
A significant association was found between the T allele of promoter polymorphism -67A/T and ADHD in the Taiwanese population (P = 0.001). There was also evidence of preferential transmission of the T allele of -67A/T polymorphism in combined samples from the UK and Taiwan (P = 0.003). No association was detected between the -839C/T polymorphism and ADHD in either of the two populations.
The finding suggests that genetic variation in the promoter region of DAT1 may be a risk factor in the development of ADHD.
The COMT gene is located on chromosome 22q11, a region strongly implicated in the aetiology of several psychiatric disorders, in particular schizophrenia. Previous research has suggested that activity and expression of COMT is altered in schizophrenia, and is mediated by one or more polymorphisms within the gene, including the functional Val158Met polymorphism.
In this study we examined the expression levels of COMT mRNA using quantitative RT-PCR in 60 post mortem cerebellum samples derived from individuals with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and no history of psychopathology. Furthermore, we have examined the methylation status of two CpG sites in the promoter region of the gene.
We found no evidence of altered COMT expression or methylation in any of the psychiatric diagnoses examined. We did, however, find evidence to suggest that genotype is related to COMT gene expression, replicating the findings of two previous studies. Specifically, val158met (rs165688; Val allele) rs737865 (G allele) and rs165599 (G allele) all showed reduced expression (P < 0.05). Finally, we observe a strong sexual dimorphism in COMT expression, with females exhibiting significantly greater levels of COMT mRNA.
The expression of COMT does not appear to be altered in the cerebellum of individuals suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression, but does appear to be influenced by single nucleotide polymorphisms within the gene.
The Spontaneously Hypertensive Rat (SHR) shows a number of behaviours that closely parallel those seen in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. These include motor hyperactivity, excessive responses under a fixed-interval/extinction schedule, difficulty in acquiring operant tasks and increased sensitivity to immediate behavioural reinforcement. As in children with ADHD, the behavioural and cognitive deficits in the SHR are responsive to stimulants, including d-amphetamine and d,l-methylphenidate. The non-hyperactive Wistar Kyoto (WKY) rat strain is often used as a control in behavioural studies of the SHR, and WKY itself has been suggested to be a useful animal model of depression. Numerous studies have shown that dopaminergic neurotransmission is altered between the two strains. Human genetic studies have found associations between several dopaminergic genes and both ADHD and depression.
We sequenced three candidate dopaminergic genes (Drd2, Drd4, and Dat1) in the SHR and WKY to identify between-strain sequence differences.
No between-strain sequence differences were found in either Drd2 or Drd4, but several variations were found in the Dat1 gene that encodes the dopamine transporter.
It is plausible that DNA sequence changes in the Dat1 gene account for some of the behavioural differences observed between the SHR and WKY strains. Future work will focus on elucidating the functional effects of the observed polymorphisms.
The 10-repeat allele of a variable number tandem repeat (VNTR) polymorphism in the 3'-untranslated region of the dopamine transporter gene (DAT1) has been associated with a range of psychiatric phenotypes, most notably attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The mechanism for this association is not yet understood, although several lines of evidence implicate variation in gene expression. In this study we have characterised the genomic structure of the 9- and 10-repeat VNTR alleles, and directly examined the role of the polymorphism in mediating gene expression by measuring comparative in vitro cellular expression using a reporter-gene assay system.
Differences in the sequence of the 9- and 10- repeat alleles were confirmed but no polymorphic differences were observed between individuals. There was no difference in expression of reporter gene constructs containing the two alleles.
Our data suggests that this VNTR polymorphism may not have a direct effect on DAT1 expression and that the associations observed with psychiatric phenotypes may be mediated via linkage disequilibrium with other functional polymorphisms.