Unexpected Transcriptional Programs Contribute to Hippocampal Memory Deficits and Neuronal Stunting after Early-Life Adversity

Cell Rep. 2020 Dec 15;33(11):108511. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.108511.


Early-life adversity (ELA) is associated with lifelong memory deficits, yet the responsible mechanisms remain unclear. We impose ELA by rearing rat pups in simulated poverty, assess hippocampal memory, and probe changes in gene expression, their transcriptional regulation, and the consequent changes in hippocampal neuronal structure. ELA rats have poor hippocampal memory and stunted hippocampal pyramidal neurons associated with ~140 differentially expressed genes. Upstream regulators of the altered genes include glucocorticoid receptor and, unexpectedly, the transcription factor neuron-restrictive silencer factor (NRSF/REST). NRSF contributes critically to the memory deficits because blocking its function transiently following ELA rescues spatial memory and restores the dendritic arborization of hippocampal pyramidal neurons in ELA rats. Blocking NRSF function in vitro augments dendritic complexity of developing hippocampal neurons, suggesting that NRSF represses genes involved in neuronal maturation. These findings establish important, surprising contributions of NRSF to ELA-induced transcriptional programming that disrupts hippocampal maturation and memory function.

Keywords: GR; NRSF; REST; RNA-seq; early-life stress; epigenetic; hippocampus; memory; neuronal development; pyramidal neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Hippocampus / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Memory Disorders / immunology*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Transcription Factors / immunology*


  • Transcription Factors