The serotonin 1A receptor (5-HT1A), a critical regulator of the brain serotonergic tone, is implicated in major depressive disorder (MDD) where it is often found to be dys-regulated. However, the extent to which stress and antidepressant treatment impact 5-HT1A expression in adults remains unclear. To address this issue, we subjected adult male BALB/c mice to unpredictable chronic mild stress (UCMS) to induce a depression-like phenotype that was reversed by chronic treatment with the antidepressant imipramine. In prefrontal cortex (PFC) and midbrain tissue, UCMS increased 5-HT1A RNA and protein levels, changes that are expected to decrease the brain serotonergic activity. The stress-induced increase in 5-HT1A expression was paralleled by a specific increase in DNA methylation of the conserved -681 CpG promoter site, located within a Sp1-like element. We show that the -681 CpG site is recognized and repressed by Sp4, the predominant neuronal Sp1-like factor and that Sp4-induced repression is attenuated by DNA methylation, despite a stress-induced increase in PFC Sp4 levels. These results indicate that adult life stress induces DNA methylation of a conserved promoter site, antagonizing Sp4 repression to increase 5-HT1A expression. Chronic imipramine treatment fully reversed the UCMS-induced increase in methylation of the -681 CpG site in the PFC but not midbrain of stressed animals and also increased 5-HT1A expression in the PFC of control animals. Incomplete reversal by imipramine of stress-induced changes in 5-HT1A methylation and expression indicates a persistence of stress vulnerability, and that sustained reversal of behavioral impairments may require additional pathways.
Keywords: 5-HT1A receptor; Antidepressant; DNA methylation; Epigenetics; Gene expression; Plasticity; Raphe; Serotonin; Sp4; UCMS.
Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.