Epigenetics and memory: an expanded role for chromatin dynamics

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2021 Apr;67:58-65. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2020.08.007. Epub 2020 Sep 6.


Nearly two decades of research on epigenetic mechanisms in the brain have demonstrated that epigenetic marks that were once thought to be relatively static are dynamically and reversibly regulated in the brain during memory formation. Here, we focus on new research that has further expanded the dynamic nature of chromatin in memory formation through three key mechanisms. First, we discuss the emerging role of histone variants, which undergo learning-induced turnover or exchange, a process in which one histone type replaces another in chromatin. Next, we focus on chromatin remodeling complexes, which are tightly intertwined with all aspects of chromatin regulation and as such, can reposition or evict nucleosomes to promote transcriptional induction, and mediate histone variant exchange. Finally, we discuss how differential distribution of histone marks to localized narrow genomic regions and/or broadly distributed chromatin domains impact transcriptional outcomes and memory formation. Together, these studies mark a shift toward unraveling the complexity of chromatin function in memory and offer new strategies for fine tuning transcriptional outcomes to modify longevity, specificity and strength of memories.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chromatin Assembly and Disassembly
  • Chromatin*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Histones / genetics
  • Memory


  • Chromatin
  • Histones