Epigenetic mechanisms in cognition

Neuron. 2011 Jun 9;70(5):813-29. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.05.019.


Although the critical role for epigenetic mechanisms in development and cell differentiation has long been appreciated, recent evidence reveals that these mechanisms are also employed in postmitotic neurons as a means of consolidating and stabilizing cognitive-behavioral memories. In this review, we discuss evidence for an "epigenetic code" in the central nervous system that mediates synaptic plasticity, learning, and memory. We consider how specific epigenetic changes are regulated and may interact with each other during memory formation and how these changes manifest functionally at the cellular and circuit levels. We also describe a central role for mitogen-activated protein kinases in controlling chromatin signaling in plasticity and memory. Finally, we consider how aberrant epigenetic modifications may lead to cognitive disorders that affect learning and memory, and we review the therapeutic potential of epigenetic treatments for the amelioration of these conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology*
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Memory / physiology
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / genetics


  • Histones
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases