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J Neurosci. 2007 Feb 14;27(7):1756-68.

The transcription factor nerve growth factor-inducible protein a mediates epigenetic programming: altering epigenetic marks by immediate-early genes.

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  • 1Douglas Hospital Research Center, Montréal, Québec, Canada H4H 1R3.


Maternal care alters epigenetic programming of glucocorticoid receptor (GR) gene expression in the hippocampus, and increased postnatal maternal licking/grooming (LG) behavior enhances nerve growth factor-inducible protein A (NGFI-A) transcription factor binding to the exon 1(7) GR promoter within the hippocampus of the offspring. We tested the hypothesis that NGFI-A binding to the exon 1(7) GR promoter sequence marks this sequence for histone acetylation and DNA demethylation and that such epigenetic alterations subsequently influence NGFI-A binding and GR transcription. We report that (1) NGFI-A binding to its consensus sequence is inhibited by DNA methylation, (2) NGFI-A induces the activity of exon 1(7) GR promoter in a transient reporter assay, (3) DNA methylation inhibits exon 1(7) GR promoter activity, and (4) whereas NGFI-A interaction with the methylated exon 1(7) GR promoter is reduced, NGFI-A overexpression induces histone acetylation, DNA demethylation, and activation of the exon 1(7) GR promoter in transient transfection assays. Site-directed mutagenesis assays demonstrate that NGFI-A binding to the exon 1(7) GR promoter is required for such epigenetic reprogramming. In vivo, enhanced maternal LG is associated with increased NGFI-A binding to the exon 1(7) GR promoter in the hippocampus of pups, and NGFI-A-bound exon 1(7) GR promoter is unmethylated compared with unbound exon 1(7) GR promoter. Knockdown experiments of NGFI-A in hippocampal primary cell culture show that NGFI-A is required for serotonin-induced DNA demethylation and increased exon 1(7) GR promoter expression. The data are consistent with the hypothesis that NGFI-A participates in epigenetic programming of GR expression.

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