Early-life iron deficiency results in long-term abnormalities in cognitive function and affective behavior in adulthood. In preclinical models, these effects have been associated with long-term dysregulation of key neuronal genes. While limited evidence suggests histone methylation as an epigenetic mechanism underlying gene dysregulation, the role of DNA methylation remains unknown. To determine whether DNA methylation is a potential mechanism by which early-life iron deficiency induces gene dysregulation, we performed whole genome bisulfite sequencing to identify loci with altered DNA methylation in the postnatal day (P) 15 iron-deficient (ID) rat hippocampus, a time point at which the highest level of hippocampal iron deficiency is concurrent with peak iron demand for axonal and dendritic growth. We identified 229 differentially methylated loci and they were mapped within 108 genes. Among them, 63 and 45 genes showed significantly increased and decreased DNA methylation in the P15 ID hippocampus, respectively. To establish a correlation between differentially methylated loci and gene dysregulation, the methylome data were compared to our published P15 hippocampal transcriptome. Both datasets showed alteration of similar functional networks regulating nervous system development and cell-to-cell signaling that are critical for learning and behavior. Collectively, the present findings support a role for DNA methylation in neural gene dysregulation following early-life iron deficiency.
Keywords: DNA methylation; DNA sequencing; hippocampus; iron; micronutrient deficiency; neurobiology; neuroplasticity; transcriptome.