Epigenetic programming of neurodegenerative diseases by an adverse environment

Brain Res. 2012 Mar 20:1444:96-111. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2012.01.038. Epub 2012 Jan 24.


Experience and environment can critically influence the risk and progression of neurodegenerative disorders. Epigenetic mechanisms, such as miRNA expression, DNA methylation, and histone modifications, readily respond to experience and environmental factors. Here we propose that epigenetic regulation of gene expression and environmental modulation thereof may play a key role in the onset and course of common neurological conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, and multiple sclerosis. For example, epigenetic mechanisms may mediate long-term responses to adverse experience, such as stress, to affect disease susceptibility and the course of neurodegenerative events. This review introduces the epigenetic components and their possible role in mediating neuropathological processes in response to stress. We argue that epigenetic modifications will affect neurodegenerative events through altered gene function. The study of epigenetic states in neurodegenerative diseases presents an opportunity to gain new insights into risk factors and pathogenic mechanisms. Moreover, research into epigenetic regulation of disease may revolutionize health care by opening new avenues of personalized, preventive and curative medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Methylation
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Environment*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology*
  • Epigenomics*
  • Histones
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / etiology*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / genetics*
  • Rats


  • Histones