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1.  Epigenetic Genes and Emotional Reactivity to Daily Life Events: A Multi-Step Gene-Environment Interaction Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e100935.
Recent human and animal studies suggest that epigenetic mechanisms mediate the impact of environment on development of mental disorders. Therefore, we hypothesized that polymorphisms in epigenetic-regulatory genes impact stress-induced emotional changes. A multi-step, multi-sample gene-environment interaction analysis was conducted to test whether 31 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in epigenetic-regulatory genes, i.e. three DNA methyltransferase genes DNMT1, DNMT3A, DNMT3B, and methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), moderate emotional responses to stressful and pleasant stimuli in daily life as measured by Experience Sampling Methodology (ESM). In the first step, main and interactive effects were tested in a sample of 112 healthy individuals. Significant associations in this discovery sample were then investigated in a population-based sample of 434 individuals for replication. SNPs showing significant effects in both the discovery and replication samples were subsequently tested in three other samples of: (i) 85 unaffected siblings of patients with psychosis, (ii) 110 patients with psychotic disorders, and iii) 126 patients with a history of major depressive disorder. Multilevel linear regression analyses showed no significant association between SNPs and negative affect or positive affect. No SNPs moderated the effect of pleasant stimuli on positive affect. Three SNPs of DNMT3A (rs11683424, rs1465764, rs1465825) and 1 SNP of MTHFR (rs1801131) moderated the effect of stressful events on negative affect. Only rs11683424 of DNMT3A showed consistent directions of effect in the majority of the 5 samples. These data provide the first evidence that emotional responses to daily life stressors may be moderated by genetic variation in the genes involved in the epigenetic machinery.
PMCID: PMC4072714  PMID: 24967710
2.  Epigenetic regulation of adult neural stem cells: implications for Alzheimer’s disease 
Experimental evidence has demonstrated that several aspects of adult neural stem cells (NSCs), including their quiescence, proliferation, fate specification and differentiation, are regulated by epigenetic mechanisms. These control the expression of specific sets of genes, often including those encoding for small non-coding RNAs, indicating a complex interplay between various epigenetic factors and cellular functions.
Previous studies had indicated that in addition to the neuropathology in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), plasticity-related changes are observed in brain areas with ongoing neurogenesis, like the hippocampus and subventricular zone. Given the role of stem cells e.g. in hippocampal functions like cognition, and given their potential for brain repair, we here review the epigenetic mechanisms relevant for NSCs and AD etiology. Understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in the epigenetic regulation of adult NSCs will advance our knowledge on the role of adult neurogenesis in degeneration and possibly regeneration in the AD brain.
PMCID: PMC4080757  PMID: 24964731
Adult neurogenesis; Epigenetics; Alzheimer’s disease; DNA methylation; Histone modifications; MicroRNAs; Stem cell; Induced pluripotent stem cell
3.  Histone Deacetylase 2 in the Mouse Hippocampus: Attenuation of Age-Related Increase by Caloric Restriction 
Current Alzheimer research  2013;10(8):868-876.
The aging process in the hippocampus is associated with aberrant epigenetic marks, such as DNA methylation and histone tail alterations. Recent evidence suggests that caloric restriction (CR) can potentially delay the aging process, while upregulation of antioxidants may also have a beneficial effect in this respect. We have recently observed that CR attenuates age-related changes in the levels of the epigenetic molecules DNA methyltransferase 3a, 5-methylcytidine (5-mC) and 5-hydroxymethylcytosine in the mouse hippocampus while overexpression of the antioxidant Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) does not. However, the impact of aging on the levels of histone-modifying enzymes such as histone deacetylase 2 (HDAC2) in the hippocampus has not been studied in much detail. Here, we investigated immunoreactivity (IR) of HDAC2 in three subregions of the hippocampus (dentate gyrus, CA3 and CA1-2) of mice taken from large cohorts of aging wild-type and transgenic mice overexpressing normal human SOD1, which were kept under normal diet or CR from weaning onwards. Independent from the genotype, aging (between 12 and 24 months) increased levels of HDAC2 IR in the hippocampus. Moreover, CR prevented this age-related increase, particularly in the CA3 and CA1-2 subregions, while SOD1 overexpression did not. Quantitative image analyses showed that HDAC2 IR correlated positively with 5-mC IR while these markers were shown to colocalize in the nucleus of hippocampal cells. Together with recent literature reports, these findings suggest that altered levels of epigenetic regulatory proteins including HDAC2 regulate age-related changes in the mouse hippocampus and that CR may prevent these age-related changes.
PMCID: PMC3966721  PMID: 24093534
Aging; epigenesis; histone deacetylase 2 (HDAC2); caloric restriction; hippocampus
4.  Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor/FK506-Binding Protein 5 Genotype by Childhood Trauma Interactions Do Not Impact on Hippocampal Volume and Cognitive Performance 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e92722.
In the development of psychotic symptoms, environmental and genetic factors may both play a role. The reported association between childhood trauma and psychotic symptoms could therefore be moderated by single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with the stress response, such as FK506-binding protein 5 (FKBP5) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Recent studies investigating childhood trauma by SNP interactions have inconsistently found the hippocampus to be a potential target underlying these interactions. Therefore, more detailed modelling of these effects, using appropriate covariates, is required. We examined whether BDNF/FKBP5 and childhood trauma interactions affected two proxies of hippocampal integrity: (i) hippocampal volume and (ii) cognitive performance on a block design (BD) and delayed auditory verbal task (AVLT). We also investigated whether the putative interaction was different for patients with a psychotic disorder (n = 89) compared to their non-psychotic siblings (n = 95), in order to elicit possible group-specific protective/vulnerability effects. SNPs were rs9296158, rs4713916, rs992105, rs3800373 (FKBP5) and rs6265 (BDNF). In the combined sample, no BDNF/FKBP5 by childhood trauma interactions were apparent for either outcome, and BDNF/FKBP5 by childhood trauma interactions were not different for patients and siblings. The omission of drug use and alcohol consumption sometimes yielded false positives, greatly affected explained error and influenced p-values. The consistent absence of any significant BDNF/FKBP5 by childhood trauma interactions on assessments of hippocampal integrity suggests that the effect of these interactions on psychotic symptoms is not mediated by hippocampal integrity. The importance of appropriate statistical designs and inclusion of relevant covariates should be carefully considered.
PMCID: PMC3962453  PMID: 24658422
5.  Consistent decrease in global DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation in the hippocampus of Alzheimer’s disease patients 
Neurobiology of aging  2013;34(9):2091-2099.
Epigenetic dysregulation of gene expression is thought to be critically involved in the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Recent studies indicate that DNA methylation and DNA hydroxymethylation are 2 important epigenetic mechanisms that regulate gene expression in the aging brain. However, very little is known about the levels of markers of DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation in the brains of patients with AD, the cell-type specificity of putative AD-related alterations in these markers, as well as the link between epigenetic alterations and the gross pathology of AD. The present quantitative immunohistochemical study investigated the levels of the 2 most important markers of DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation, that is, 5-methylcytidine (5-mC) and 5-hydroxymethylcytidine (5-hmC), in the hippocampus of AD patients (n = 10) and compared these to non demented, age-matched controls (n = 10). In addition, the levels of 5-hmC in the hippocampus of a pair of monozygotic twins discordant for AD were assessed. The levels of 5-mC and 5-hmC were furthermore analyzed in a cell-type and hippocampal subregion–specific manner, and were correlated with amyloid plaque load and neurofibrillary tangle load. The results showed robust decreases in the hippocampal levels of 5-mC and 5-hmC in AD patients (19.6% and 20.2%, respectively). Similar results were obtained for the twin with AD when compared to the non-demented co-twin. Moreover, levels of 5-mC as well as the levels of 5-hmC showed a significant negative correlation with amyloid plaque load in the hippocampus (rp = −0.539, p = 0.021 for 5-mC and rp = −0.558, p = 0.016 for 5-hmC). These human postmortem results thus strengthen the notion that AD is associated with alterations in DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation, and provide a basis for further epigenetic studies identifying the exact genetic loci with aberrant epigenetic signatures.
PMCID: PMC3955118  PMID: 23582657
Alzheimer’s disease; Epigenetics; DNA methylation; DNA hydroxymethylation; Amyloid
6.  Depressive Symptoms in Crohn's Disease: Relationship with Immune Activation and Tryptophan Availability 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e60435.
Crohn's disease (CD) is associated with immune activation and depressive symptoms. This study determines the impact of anti-tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α treatment in CD patients on depressive symptoms and the degree to which tryptophan (TRP) availability and immune markers mediate this effect. Fifteen patients with CD, eligible for anti-TNF-α treatment were recruited. Disease activity (Harvey-Bradshaw Index (HBI), Crohn's Disease Activity Index (CDAI)), fatigue (Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory (MFI)), quality of life (Inflammatory Bowel Disease Questionnaire (IBDQ)), symptoms of depression and anxiety (Symptom Checklist (SCL-90), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS)), immune activation (acute phase proteins (APP)), zinc and TRP availability were assessed before treatment and after 2, 4 and 8 weeks. Anti-TNF-α increased IBDQ scores and reduced all depression scores; however only SCL-90 depression scores remained decreased after correction for HBI. Positive APPs decreased, while negative APPs increased after treatment. After correction for HBI, both level and percentage of γ fraction were associated with SCL-90 depression scores over time. After correction for HBI, patients with current/past depressive disorder displayed higher levels of positive APPs and lower levels of negative APPs and zinc. TRP availability remained invariant over time and there was no association between SCL-90 depression scores and TRP availability. Inflammatory reactions in CD are more evident in patients with comorbid depression, regardless of disease activity. Anti-TNF-α treatment in CD reduces depressive symptoms, in part independently of disease activity; there was no evidence that this effect was mediated by immune-induced changes in TRP availability.
PMCID: PMC3609785  PMID: 23544139
7.  Age-related increase in levels of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine in mouse hippocampus is prevented by caloric restriction 
Current Alzheimer research  2012;9(5):536-544.
Aberrations in epigenetic marks have been associated with aging of the brain while caloric restriction (CR) and upregulation of endogenous antioxidants have been suggested as tools to attenuate the aging process. We have recently observed age-related increases in levels of 5-methylcytidine (5-mC) and DNA methyltransferase 3a (Dnmt3a) in the mouse hippocampus. Most of those age-related changes in these epigenetic relevant markers were prevented by CR but not by transgenic overexpression of the endogenous antioxidant superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1). As recent work has suggested a distinct role for hydroxymethylation in epigenetic regulation of gene expression in the brain, the current study investigated age-related changes of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5-hmC) in the mouse hippocampus, and furthermore tested whether CR and transgenic upregulation of SOD1 affected any age-related changes in 5-hmC. Immunohistochemical analyses of 5-hmC in 12- and 24-month-old wild-type and transgenic mice overexpressing SOD1, which were kept under either a control or a calorie restricted diet, revealed an increase of 5-hmC immunoreactivity occurring with aging in the hippocampal dentate gyrus, CA3 and CA1–2 regions. Moreover, CR, but not overexpression of SOD1, prevented the age-related increase in the CA3 region. These region-specific findings indicate that the aging process in mice is connected with epigenetic changes and suggest that the beneficial actions of CR may be mediated via epigenetic mechanisms such as methylation and hydroxymethylation of DNA.
PMCID: PMC3561726  PMID: 22272625
Aging; Epigenesis; Epigenetics; DNA hydroxymethylation; 5-hydroxymethylcytosine; Caloric restriction; Antioxidants; superoxide dismutase (SOD); Hippocampus
8.  Common variants at VRK2 and TCF4 conferring risk of schizophrenia 
Steinberg, Stacy | de Jong, Simone | Andreassen, Ole A. | Werge, Thomas | Børglum, Anders D. | Mors, Ole | Mortensen, Preben B. | Gustafsson, Omar | Costas, Javier | Pietiläinen, Olli P. H. | Demontis, Ditte | Papiol, Sergi | Huttenlocher, Johanna | Mattheisen, Manuel | Breuer, René | Vassos, Evangelos | Giegling, Ina | Fraser, Gillian | Walker, Nicholas | Tuulio-Henriksson, Annamari | Suvisaari, Jaana | Lönnqvist, Jouko | Paunio, Tiina | Agartz, Ingrid | Melle, Ingrid | Djurovic, Srdjan | Strengman, Eric | Jürgens, Gesche | Glenthøj, Birte | Terenius, Lars | Hougaard, David M. | Ørntoft, Torben | Wiuf, Carsten | Didriksen, Michael | Hollegaard, Mads V. | Nordentoft, Merete | van Winkel, Ruud | Kenis, Gunter | Abramova, Lilia | Kaleda, Vasily | Arrojo, Manuel | Sanjuán, Julio | Arango, Celso | Sperling, Swetlana | Rossner, Moritz | Ribolsi, Michele | Magni, Valentina | Siracusano, Alberto | Christiansen, Claus | Kiemeney, Lambertus A. | Veldink, Jan | van den Berg, Leonard | Ingason, Andres | Muglia, Pierandrea | Murray, Robin | Nöthen, Markus M. | Sigurdsson, Engilbert | Petursson, Hannes | Thorsteinsdottir, Unnur | Kong, Augustine | Rubino, I. Alex | De Hert, Marc | Réthelyi, János M. | Bitter, István | Jönsson, Erik G. | Golimbet, Vera | Carracedo, Angel | Ehrenreich, Hannelore | Craddock, Nick | Owen, Michael J. | O'Donovan, Michael C. | Ruggeri, Mirella | Tosato, Sarah | Peltonen, Leena | Ophoff, Roel A. | Collier, David A. | St Clair, David | Rietschel, Marcella | Cichon, Sven | Stefansson, Hreinn | Rujescu, Dan | Stefansson, Kari
Human Molecular Genetics  2011;20(20):4076-4081.
Common sequence variants have recently joined rare structural polymorphisms as genetic factors with strong evidence for association with schizophrenia. Here we extend our previous genome-wide association study and meta-analysis (totalling 7 946 cases and 19 036 controls) by examining an expanded set of variants using an enlarged follow-up sample (up to 10 260 cases and 23 500 controls). In addition to previously reported alleles in the major histocompatibility complex region, near neurogranin (NRGN) and in an intron of transcription factor 4 (TCF4), we find two novel variants showing genome-wide significant association: rs2312147[C], upstream of vaccinia-related kinase 2 (VRK2) [odds ratio (OR) = 1.09, P = 1.9 × 10−9] and rs4309482[A], between coiled-coiled domain containing 68 (CCDC68) and TCF4, about 400 kb from the previously described risk allele, but not accounted for by its association (OR = 1.09, P = 7.8 × 10−9).
PMCID: PMC3298077  PMID: 21791550
9.  Prevention of age-related changes in hippocampal levels of 5-methylcytidine by caloric restriction 
Neurobiology of Aging  2011;33(8):1672-1681.
Aberrant DNA methylation patterns have been linked to molecular and cellular alterations in the aging brain. Caloric restriction (CR) and upregulation of antioxidants have been proposed as interventions to prevent or delay age-related brain pathology. Previously, we have shown in large cohorts of aging mice, that age-related increases in DNA methyltransferase 3a (Dnmt3a) immunoreactivity in the mouse hippocampus were attenuated by CR, but not by overexpression of superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1). Here, we investigated age-related alterations of 5-methylcytidine (5-mC), a marker of DNA methylation levels, in a hippocampal subregion-specific manner. Examination of 5-mC immunoreactivity in 12- and 24-month-old wild type (WT) mice on control diet, mice overexpressing SOD1 on control diet, wild type mice on CR, and SOD1 mice on CR, indicated an age-related increase in 5-mC immunoreactivity in the hippocampal dentate gyrus, CA3, and CA1–2 regions, which was prevented by CR but not by SOD1 overexpression. Moreover, positive correlations between 5-mC and Dnmt3a immunoreactivity were observed in the CA3 and CA1–2. These findings suggest a crucial role for DNA methylation in hippocampal aging and in the mediation of the beneficial effects of CR on aging.
PMCID: PMC3355211  PMID: 21764481
Aging; Epigenesis; Epigenetics; DNA methylation; 5-methylcytidine (5-mC); Caloric restriction; Antioxidants; Superoxide dismutase (SOD); Hippocampus
10.  Differential BDNF Responses of Triple Versus Dual Reuptake Inhibition in Neuronal and Astrocytoma Cells as well as in Rat Hippocampus and Prefrontal Cortex 
Journal of Molecular Neuroscience  2012;48(1):167-175.
Monoamine reuptake inhibitors increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) activity, and this growth factor is regarded as an interesting target for developing new antidepressant drugs. The aims of this study were to evaluate whether monoaminergic reuptake inhibition increases BDNF in vivo and in vitro as predicted by the neurotrophic hypothesis of depression, and whether triple reuptake inhibition has a superior BDNF response compared to dual reuptake inhibition. Twenty-one days of oral treatment (30 mg/kg) with the dual serotonin/noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor duloxetine or the triple serotonin/noradrenaline/dopamine reuptake inhibitor DOV 216,303 restored BDNF protein levels in the rat hippocampus, which were initially decreased due to injection stress. The prefrontal cortex contained increased BDNF levels only after DOV 216,303 treatment. In vitro, neither duloxetine nor DOV 216,303 altered intracellular BDNF levels in murine HT22 neuronal cells. In contrast, BDNF release was more effectively decreased following treatment with DOV 216,303 in these cells. In rat C62B astrocytomas, both antidepressants increased intracellular BDNF levels at their highest nontoxic concentration. C62B astrocytomas did not release BDNF, even after antidepressant treatment. Increased BDNF levels support the neurotrophic hypothesis of depression, but our findings do not clearly evidence that the BDNF response after triple reuptake inhibitors is more effective than after dual reuptake inhibitors. Moreover, the data suggest that the role of BDNF in neurons and astrocytes is complex and likely depends on factors including specificity of cell types in different brain regions, cell–cell interactions, and different mechanisms of action of antidepressants used.
PMCID: PMC3413810  PMID: 22581450
BDNF; Astrocytes; Neurons; Duloxetine; DOV 216,303
11.  Expression of Monoamine Transporters, Nitric Oxide Synthase 3, and Neurotrophin Genes in Antidepressant-Stimulated Astrocytes 
Background: There is increasing evidence that glial cells play a role in the pathomechanisms of mood disorders and the mode of action of antidepressant drugs. Methods: To examine whether there is a direct effect on the expression of different genes encoding proteins that have been implicated in the pathophysiology of affective disorders, primary astrocyte cell cultures from rats were treated with two different antidepressant drugs, imipramine and escitalopram, and the RNA expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Bdnf), serotonin transporter (5Htt), dopamine transporter (Dat), and endothelial nitric oxide synthase (Nos3) was examined. Results: Stimulation of astroglial cell culture with imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, led to a significant increase of the Bdnf RNA level whereas treatment with escitalopram did not. In contrast, 5Htt was not differentially expressed after antidepressant treatment. Finally, neither Dat nor Nos3 RNA expression was detected in cultured astrocytes. Conclusion: These data provide further evidence for a role of astroglial cells in the molecular mechanisms of action of antidepressants.
PMCID: PMC3330247  PMID: 22529824
antidepressant; mechanism of action; BDNF; nitric oxide synthase; gene expression; depression; glia; astrocytes
13.  Differential Effects of Prenatal Stress in 5-Htt Deficient Mice: Towards Molecular Mechanisms of Gene × Environment Interactions 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e22715.
Prenatal stress (PS) has been shown to influence the development of the fetal brain and to increase the risk for the development of psychiatric disorders in later life. Furthermore, the variation of human serotonin transporter (5-HTT, SLC6A4) gene was suggested to exert a modulating effect on the association between early life stress and the risk for depression. In the present study, we used a 5-Htt×PS paradigm to investigate whether the effects of PS are dependent on the 5-Htt genotype. For this purpose, the effects of PS on cognition, anxiety- and depression-related behavior were examined using a maternal restraint stress paradigm of PS in C57BL6 wild-type (WT) and heterozygous 5-Htt deficient (5-Htt +/−) mice. Additionally, in female offspring, a genome-wide hippocampal gene expression profiling was performed using the Affymetrix GeneChip® Mouse Genome 430 2.0 Array. 5-Htt +/− offspring showed enhanced memory performance and signs of reduced anxiety as compared to WT offspring. In contrast, exposure of 5-Htt +/− mice to PS was associated with increased depressive-like behavior, an effect that tended to be more pronounced in female offspring. Further, 5-Htt genotype, PS and their interaction differentially affected the expression of numerous genes and related pathways within the female hippocampus. Specifically, MAPK and neurotrophin signaling were regulated by both the 5-Htt +/− genotype and PS exposure, whereas cytokine and Wnt signaling were affected in a 5-Htt genotype×PS manner, indicating a gene×environment interaction at the molecular level. In conclusion, our data suggest that although the 5-Htt +/− genotype shows clear adaptive capacity, 5-Htt +/− mice –particularly females– at the same time appear to be more vulnerable to developmental stress exposure when compared to WT offspring. Moreover, hippocampal gene expression profiles suggest that distinct molecular mechanisms mediate the behavioral effects of the 5-Htt genotype, PS exposure, and their interaction.
PMCID: PMC3155516  PMID: 21857948
14.  The Genetic Influence on the Cortical Processing of Experimental Pain and the Moderating Effect of Pain Status 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(10):e13641.
Research suggests that the COMT Val158Met, BDNF Val66Met and OPRM1 A118G polymorphisms moderate the experience of pain. In order to obtain experimental confirmation and extension of findings, cortical processing of experimentally-induced pain was used.
A sample of 78 individuals with chronic low back pain complaints and 37 healthy controls underwent EEG registration. Event-Related Potentials were measured in response to electrical nociceptive stimuli and moderation by COMT Val158Met, BDNF Val66Met and OPRM1 A118G polymorphisms was assessed.
Genetic variation did not have a direct effect on cortical processing of experimental pain. However, genetic effects (COMT Val158Met and BDNF Val66Met) on experimental pain were moderated by the presence of chronic pain. In the presence of chronic pain, the COMT Met allele and the BDNF Met allele augmented cortical pain processing, whilst reducing pain processing in pain-free controls. No significant effects were found concerning the OPRM1 A118G polymorphism.
The current study suggests that chronic experience of pain enhances genetic sensitivity to experimentally induced mildly painful stimuli, possibly through a process of epigenetic modification.
PMCID: PMC2964315  PMID: 21049025

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