Emerging roles of epigenetic mechanisms in the enduring effects of early-life stress and experience on learning and memory

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2011 Jul;96(1):79-88. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2011.02.008. Epub 2011 Feb 19.


Epigenetic mechanisms are involved in programming gene expression throughout development. In addition, they are key contributors to the processes by which early-life experience fine-tunes the expression levels of key neuronal genes, governing learning and memory throughout life. Here we describe the long-lasting, bi-directional effects of early-life experience on learning and memory. We discuss how enriched postnatal experience enduringly augments spatial learning, and how chronic early-life stress results in persistent and progressive deficits in the structure and function of hippocampal neurons. The existing and emerging roles of epigenetic mechanisms in these fundamental neuroplasticity phenomena are illustrated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Life Change Events
  • Maternal Deprivation
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*