Background: Prenatal exposure to infectious or inflammatory insults increases the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders. Using a well-established mouse model of prenatal viral-like immune activation, we examined whether this pathological association involves genome-wide DNA methylation differences at single nucleotide resolution.
Methods: Prenatal immune activation was induced by maternal treatment with the viral mimetic polyriboinosinic-polyribocytidylic acid in middle or late gestation. Following behavioral and cognitive characterization of the adult offspring (n = 12 per group), unbiased capture array bisulfite sequencing was combined with subsequent matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction analyses to quantify DNA methylation changes and transcriptional abnormalities in the medial prefrontal cortex of immune-challenged and control offspring. Gene ontology term enrichment analysis was used to explore shared functional pathways of genes with differential DNA methylation.
Results: Adult offspring of immune-challenged mothers displayed hyper- and hypomethylated CpGs at numerous loci and at distinct genomic regions, including genes relevant for gamma-aminobutyric acidergic differentiation and signaling (e.g., Dlx1, Lhx5, Lhx8), Wnt signaling (Wnt3, Wnt8a, Wnt7b), and neural development (e.g., Efnb3, Mid1, Nlgn1, Nrxn2). Altered DNA methylation was associated with transcriptional changes of the corresponding genes. The epigenetic and transcriptional effects were dependent on the offspring's age and were markedly influenced by the precise timing of prenatal immune activation.
Conclusions: Prenatal viral-like immune activation is capable of inducing stable DNA methylation changes in the medial prefrontal cortex. These long-term epigenetic modifications are a plausible mechanism underlying the disruption of prefrontal gene transcription and behavioral functions in subjects with prenatal infectious histories.
Keywords: Autism; DNA methylation; Epigenetics; Maternal immune activation; Poly(I:C); Schizophrenia.
Copyright © 2016 Society of Biological Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.