The role of epigenetic mechanisms in control of gene expression during mammalian development is well established. Associations between specific DNA or histone modifications and numerous neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders implies significant consequences of epigenetic dysregulation in both the developing and mature brain, the latter of which is the general focus of this review. Accumulating evidence suggests that epigenetic changes are involved in normal cognitive processes in addition to neurological and psychiatric disorders. Recent investigations into the regulation of epigenetic modifications in the adult brain have revealed novel and surprisingly dynamic mechanisms for controlling learning and memory-related behaviors as well as long-term synaptic plasticity. DNA methylation and histone acetylation have also been implicated in the modulation of basal synaptic transmission and the balance between excitation and inhibition in various brain regions. Studies have begun to uncover some of the alterations in gene expression that appear to mediate many of these effects, but an understanding of the precise mechanisms involved is still lacking. Nevertheless, the fundamental importance of epigenetic processes in influencing neuronal activity is becoming increasingly evident.
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