Genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors controlling oxytocin receptor gene expression.
BACKGROUND: The neuropeptide oxytocin regulates mammalian social behavior. Disruptions in oxytocin signaling are a feature of many psychopathologies. One commonly studied biomarker for oxytocin involvement in psychiatric diseases is DNA methylation at the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR). Such studies focus on DNA methylation in two regions of OXTR, exon 3 and a region termed MT2 which overlaps exon 1 and intron 1. However, the relative contribution of exon 3 and MT2 in regulating OXTR gene expression in the brain is currently unknown. RESULTS: Here, we use the prairie vole as a translational animal model to investigate genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors affecting Oxtr gene expression in a region of the brain that has been shown to drive Oxtr related behavior in the vole, the nucleus accumbens. We show that the genetic structure of Oxtr in prairie voles resembles human OXTR. We then studied the effects of early life experience on DNA methylation in two regions of a CpG island surrounding the Oxtr promoter: MT2 and exon 3. We show that early nurture in the form of parental care results in DNA hypomethylation of Oxtr in both MT2 and exon 3, but only DNA methylation in MT2 is associated with Oxtr gene expression. Network analyses indicate that CpG sites in the 3' portion of MT2 are most highly associated with Oxtr gene expression. We also identify two novel SNPs in exon 3 of Oxtr in prairie voles and a novel alternative transcript originating from the third intron of the gene. Expression of the novel alternative transcript is associated with genotype at SNP KLW2. CONCLUSIONS: These results identify putative regulatory features of Oxtr in prairie voles which inform future studies examining OXTR in human social behaviors and disorders. These studies indicate that in prairie voles, DNA methylation in MT2, particularly in the 3' portion, is more predictive of Oxtr gene expression than DNA methylation in exon 3. Similarly, in human temporal cortex, we find that DNA methylation in the 3' portion of MT2 is associated with OXTR expression. Together, these results suggest that among the CpG sites studied, DNA methylation of MT2 may be the most reliable indicator of OXTR gene expression. We also identify novel features of prairie vole Oxtr, including SNPs and an alternative transcript, which further develop the prairie vole as a translational model for studies of OXTR.
Danoff, JS; Wroblewski, KL; Graves, AJ; Quinn, GC; Perkeybile, AM; Kenkel, WM; Lillard, TS; Parikh, HI; Golino, HF; Gregory, SG; Carter, CS; Bales, KL; Connelly, JJ
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