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Epigenetics. 2012 Oct;7(10):1151-60. doi: 10.4161/epi.21976. Epub 2012 Sep 4.

Evidence that the methylation state of the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene predicts brain activity of MAO A enzyme in healthy men.

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Brookhaven National Laboratory, Medical Department, Upton, NY, USA.


Human brain function is mediated by biochemical processes, many of which can be visualized and quantified by positron emission tomography (PET). PET brain imaging of monoamine oxidase A (MAO A)-an enzyme metabolizing neurotransmitters-revealed that MAO A levels vary widely between healthy men and this variability was not explained by the common MAOA genotype (VNTR genotype), suggesting that environmental factors, through epigenetic modifications, may mediate it. Here, we analyzed MAOA methylation in white blood cells (by bisulphite conversion of genomic DNA and subsequent sequencing of cloned DNA products) and measured brain MAO A levels (using PET and [(11)C]clorgyline, a radiotracer with specificity for MAO A) in 34 healthy non-smoking male volunteers. We found significant interindividual differences in methylation status and methylation patterns of the core MAOA promoter. The VNTR genotype did not influence the methylation status of the gene or brain MAO A activity. In contrast, we found a robust association of the regional and CpG site-specific methylation of the core MAOA promoter with brain MAO A levels. These results suggest that the methylation status of the MAOA promoter (detected in white blood cells) can reliably predict the brain endophenotype. Therefore, the status of MAOA methylation observed in healthy males merits consideration as a variable contributing to interindividual differences in behavior.

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