Background: Histone acetylation has been implicated in learning and memory in the brain, however, its function at the level of the genome and at individual genetic loci remains poorly investigated. This study examines a key acetylation mark, histone H4 lysine 5 acetylation (H4K5ac), genome-wide and its role in activity-dependent gene transcription in the adult mouse hippocampus following contextual fear conditioning.
Results: Using ChIP-Seq, we identified 23,235 genes in which H4K5ac correlates with absolute gene expression in the hippocampus. However, in the absence of transcription factor binding sites 150 bp upstream of the transcription start site, genes were associated with higher H4K5ac and expression levels. We further establish H4K5ac as a ubiquitous modification across the genome. Approximately one-third of all genes have above average H4K5ac, of which ~15% are specific to memory formation and ~65% are co-acetylated for H4K12. Although H4K5ac is prevalent across the genome, enrichment of H4K5ac at specific regions in the promoter and coding region are associated with different levels of gene expression. Additionally, unbiased peak calling for genes differentially acetylated for H4K5ac identified 114 unique genes specific to fear memory, over half of which have not previously been associated with memory processes.
Conclusions: Our data provide novel insights into potential mechanisms of gene priming and bookmarking by histone acetylation following hippocampal memory activation. Specifically, we propose that hyperacetylation of H4K5 may prime genes for rapid expression following activity. More broadly, this study strengthens the importance of histone posttranslational modifications for the differential regulation of transcriptional programs in cognitive processes.