Assessment of Epigenetic Changes Associated with Care Giving in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex of Adolescent Rats

Scheuing, Lisa
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University of Delaware
An early stressful environment, such as child abuse, has been shown to have profound effects on neurodevelopment and later behavior. The field of epigenetics has provided insight into how long-term changes in gene expression and behavior can be catalyzed by early-life stressful experience and maintained throughout one’s lifetime by way of chromatin modifications. In the current study, we aimed to characterize epigenetic changes to Bdnf and Reelin, genes important in development and plasticity, in the adolescent medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) after manipulation of infantcaregiver experiences. Using a within-litter design, rat pups were exposed to either an abusive or nurturing caregiver (maltreatment or cross-foster care conditions, respectively) for 30 minutes per day during the first postnatal week. Biochemistry results indicate a significant decrease in methylated DNA associated with Bdnf exon IV for maltreated females and an increase in methylated DNA associated with Bdnf exon I for maltreated males. Gene expression assays detected a decrease in the expression of Reelin and Bdnf in males who experienced nurturing care outside of the home cage (cross-foster care). The data demonstrate differential epigenetic effects of early life stress in the mPFC that are present past the initial period of manipulation and are specific to caregiving environment, sex, and gene locus.