Background: Increasing evidence supports a role for altered gene expression in mediating the lasting effects of cocaine on the brain, and recent work has demonstrated the involvement of chromatin modifications in these alterations. However, all such studies to date have been restricted by their reliance on microarray technologies that have intrinsic limitations.
Results: We use next generation sequencing methods, RNA-seq and ChIP-seq for RNA polymerase II and several histone methylation marks, to obtain a more complete view of cocaine-induced changes in gene expression and associated adaptations in numerous modes of chromatin regulation in the mouse nucleus accumbens, a key brain reward region. We demonstrate an unexpectedly large number of pre-mRNA splicing alterations in response to repeated cocaine treatment. In addition, we identify combinations of chromatin changes, or signatures, that correlate with cocaine-dependent regulation of gene expression, including those involving pre-mRNA alternative splicing. Through bioinformatic prediction and biological validation, we identify one particular splicing factor, A2BP1(Rbfox1/Fox-1), which is enriched at genes that display certain chromatin signatures and contributes to drug-induced behavioral abnormalities. Together, this delineation of the cocaine-induced epigenome in the nucleus accumbens reveals several novel modes of regulation by which cocaine alters the brain.
Conclusions: We establish combinatorial chromatin and transcriptional profiles in mouse nucleus accumbens after repeated cocaine treatment. These results serve as an important resource for the field and provide a template for the analysis of other systems to reveal new transcriptional and epigenetic mechanisms of neuronal regulation.