Early life experience drives structural variation of neural genomes in mice

Science. 2018 Mar 23;359(6382):1395-1399. doi: 10.1126/science.aah3378.


The brain is a genomic mosaic owing to somatic mutations that arise throughout development. Mobile genetic elements, including retrotransposons, are one source of somatic mosaicism in the brain. Retrotransposition may represent a form of plasticity in response to experience. Here, we use droplet digital polymerase chain reaction to show that natural variations in maternal care mediate the mobilization of long interspersed nuclear element-1 (LINE-1 or L1) retrotransposons in the hippocampus of the mouse brain. Increasing the amount of maternal care blocks the accumulation of L1. Maternal care also alters DNA methylation at YY1 binding sites implicated in L1 activation and affects expression of the de novo methyltransferase DNMT3a. Our observations indicate that early life experience drives somatic variation in the genome via L1 retrotransposons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites / genetics
  • DNA Copy Number Variations*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Hippocampus / growth & development*
  • Long Interspersed Nucleotide Elements*
  • Maternal Behavior*
  • Mice
  • Mosaicism*
  • Neurogenesis / genetics*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • YY1 Transcription Factor / metabolism


  • YY1 Transcription Factor
  • Yy1 protein, mouse