Recent evidence from our laboratory documents functional resilience to retinal ischemic injury in untreated mice derived from parents exposed to repetitive hypoxic conditioning (RHC) before breeding. To begin to understand the epigenetic basis of this intergenerational protection, we used methylated DNA immunoprecipitation and sequencing to identify genes with differentially methylated promoters (DMGPs) in the prefrontal cortex of mice treated directly with the same RHC stimulus (F0-RHC) and in the prefrontal cortex of their untreated F1-generation offspring (F1-*RHC). Subsequent bioinformatic analyses provided key mechanistic insights into how changes in gene expression secondary to promoter hypo- and hypermethylation might afford such protection within and across generations. We found extensive changes in DNA methylation in both generations consistent with the expression of many survival-promoting genes, with twice the number of DMGPs in the cortex of F1*RHC mice relative to their F0 parents that were directly exposed to RHC. In contrast to our hypothesis that similar epigenetic modifications would be realized in the cortices of both F0-RHC and F1-*RHC mice, we instead found relatively few DMGPs common to both generations; in fact, each generation manifested expected injury resilience via distinctly unique gene expression profiles. Whereas in the cortex of F0-RHC mice, predicted protein-protein interactions reflected activation of an anti-ischemic phenotype, networks activated in F1-*RHC cortex comprised networks indicative of a much broader cytoprotective phenotype. Altogether, our results suggest that the intergenerational transfer of an acquired phenotype to offspring does not necessarily require the faithful recapitulation of the conditioning-modified DNA methylome of the parent.
Keywords: epigenetics; hypoxic preconditioning; intergenerational; neuroprotection.