Resilience to stress-related emotional disorders is governed in part by early-life experiences. Here we demonstrate experience-dependent re-programming of stress-sensitive hypothalamic neurons, which takes place through modification of neuronal gene expression via epigenetic mechanisms. Specifically, we found that augmented maternal care reduced glutamatergic synapses onto stress-sensitive hypothalamic neurons and repressed expression of the stress-responsive gene, Crh. In hypothalamus in vitro, reduced glutamatergic neurotransmission recapitulated the repressive effects of augmented maternal care on Crh, and this required recruitment of the transcriptional repressor repressor element-1 silencing transcription factor/neuron restrictive silencing factor (NRSF). Increased NRSF binding to chromatin was accompanied by sequential repressive epigenetic changes which outlasted NRSF binding. chromatin immunoprecipitation-seq analyses of NRSF targets identified gene networks that, in addition to Crh, likely contributed to the augmented care-induced phenotype, including diminished depression-like and anxiety-like behaviors. Together, we believe these findings provide the first causal link between enriched neonatal experience, synaptic refinement and induction of epigenetic processes within specific neurons. They uncover a novel mechanistic pathway from neonatal environment to emotional resilience.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience