Assistant Professor of Biology and Neuroscience Sarah Latchney recently published an article in the journal Genes, Brain and Behavior. The article's title is “Maternal upbringing and selective breeding for voluntary exercise behavior modify patterns of DNA methylation and expression of genes in the mouse brain.”
The article expands upon a prior research study published last year, examining how differences in physical activity levels, maternal care and biological sex can contribute to variations in how genes are expressed in the brain. Previously, the research team discovered that the brains of mice that exhibit increased physical activity levels show differential DNA methylation patterns for genes that do not follow traditional Mendelian inheritance patterns. These genes are expressed instead in a parent-of-origin manner (also known as genomically imprinted genes). The DNA methylation patterns were additionally modified by differences in maternal care and biological sex, supporting the hypothesis that the early-life environment can critically influence gene expression patterns for complex behaviors. The current study expanded the repertoire of genes to include additional genes with known roles in brain development. Among the many effects identified in the present study, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Bdnf) was especially impacted by elevated physical activity levels. Mice from a line bred for increased running activity exhibited changes in both the methylation patterns and gene expression of Bdnf in the hippocampus, with female mice being more significantly impacted than males. These findings provide additional evidence for the enduring effects of the early-life environment on epigenetic regulation of gene expression, thereby shaping brain development.