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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Oct 8;110(41):16651-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1310643110. Epub 2013 Sep 25.

Reversible DNA methylation regulates seasonal photoperiodic time measurement.

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Institute for Mind and Biology and Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637.

Erratum in

  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Mar 25;111(12):4645-6.


In seasonally breeding vertebrates, changes in day length induce categorically distinct behavioral and reproductive phenotypes via thyroid hormone-dependent mechanisms. Winter photoperiods inhibit reproductive neuroendocrine function but cannot sustain this inhibition beyond 6 mo, ensuring vernal reproductive recrudescence. This genomic plasticity suggests a role for epigenetics in the establishment of seasonal reproductive phenotypes. Here, we report that DNA methylation of the proximal promoter for the type III deiodinase (dio3) gene in the hamster hypothalamus is reversible and critical for photoperiodic time measurement. Short photoperiods and winter-like melatonin inhibited hypothalamic DNA methyltransferase expression and reduced dio3 promoter DNA methylation, which up-regulated dio3 expression and induced gonadal regression. Hypermethylation attenuated reproductive responses to short photoperiods. Vernal refractoriness to short photoperiods reestablished summer-like methylation of the dio3 promoter, dio3 expression, and reproductive competence, revealing a dynamic and reversible mechanism of DNA methylation in the mammalian brain that plays a central role in physiological orientation in time.


biological rhythms; photoperiodism

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