Histone subunit exchange represents an entire branch of epigenetics that is the subject of rigorous experimentation in many model systems, including yeast, plants, and cancer, but its role in the nervous system is virtually unknown. We recently conducted the first in vivo experimental investigation of activity-induced histone subunit exchange in the nervous system, focusing specifically on the histone variant H2A.Z in rodent hippocampus and cortex. In these studies we discovered that behavioral experience triggers histone subunit exchange and attendant alterations in gene transcription in the adult CNS. The characterization of experience- dependent histone subunit exchange in the brain represents a significant step forward in our knowledge of activity-regulated epigenetic mechanisms in the nervous system and provides crucial insights into the general function of this process for the field of epigenetics in general. These findings introduce a novel mechanism for regulating the three-dimensional structure of chromatin in neurons, triggering attendant alterations in gene readout, and driving experience-dependent changes in behavior. These discoveries also open up the possibility that targeting histone subunit exchange may be a novel target for therapeutic intervention in a broad range of CNS disorders, including drug addiction, cognitive disorders, and disorders of neural plasticity in general. Given this background of new information concerning a role for histone H2A.Z subunit exchange in the CNS, for this Project we propose to pursue the following four Specific Aims:
Aim 1 : To test the hypothesis that the SIRT1 histone/lysine de-acetylase signaling cascade regulates H2A.Z subunit exchange in neurons.
Aim 2 : To test the hypothesis that H2A.Z controls transcription and CpG methylation of plasticity- associated genes using a genome-wide approach.
Aim 3 : To enable the selective pharmacologic inhibition of H2A.Z by developing antisense oligonucleotide-based constructs that are sufficient to alter H2A.Z mRNA and protein expression and augment the acquisition of long-term behavioral change.
Aim 4 : To test the hypotheses that H2A.Z regulates neural plasticity via controlling both synaptic plasticity and homeostatic synaptic scaling in neurons. We anticipate that our results will be broadly applicable to understanding experience- and drug-induced neural plasticity involved in the induction and maintenance of lasting behavioral change.

Public Health Relevance

The discoveries potentially arising from this Project will be broadly relevant, encompassing mechanisms related to drug addiction, psychiatric disorders, aging, and cognition. The Project specifically involves preclinical studies to develop potential new pharmacologic approaches to targeting epigenetic mechanisms in the adult CNS.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Molecular Neuropharmacology and Signaling Study Section (MNPS)
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Arguello, Alexander
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Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Duke, Corey G; Kennedy, Andrew J; Gavin, Cristin F et al. (2017) Experience-dependent epigenomic reorganization in the hippocampus. Learn Mem 24:278-288
Sweatt, J David (2016) GENE EXPRESSION. Chromatin controls behavior. Science 353:218-9