Long-term effects of stress early in life on microRNA-30a and its network: Preventive effects of lurasidone and potential implications for depression vulnerability

Neurobiol Stress. 2020 Nov 23:13:100271. doi: 10.1016/j.ynstr.2020.100271. eCollection 2020 Nov.


Exposure to early life stress can interfere with neurodevelopmental trajectories to increase the vulnerability for psychiatric disorders later in life. With this respect, epigenetic mechanisms play a key role for the long-lasting changes in brain functions that may elicit and sustain psychopathologic outcomes. Here, we investigated DNA methylation changes as possible epigenetic mechanism mediating the effect of prenatal stress (PNS), an experimental paradigm associated with behavioral and molecular alterations relevant for psychiatric disorders. We identified 138 genes as being differentially methylated in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and in the hippocampus (HIP) of male and female adult rats exposed to PNS. Among these genes, miR-30a and Neurod1 emerged as potential players for the negative outcomes associated with PNS exposure. Indeed, in addition to showing consistent methylation differences in both brain regions and in both sexes, and interacting with each other, they are both involved in Axon guidance and Neurotrophin signaling, which are important to neurodevelopmental disorders. We also found a significant reduction in the expression of a panel of genes (CAMK2A, c-JUN, LIMK1, MAP2K1, MAP2K2, PIK3CA and PLCG1) that belong to these two biological pathways and are also validated targets of miR-30a, pointing to a down-regulation of these pathways as a consequence of PNS exposure. Interestingly, we also found that miR-30a levels were significantly upregulated in depressed patients exposed to childhood trauma, as compared to control individuals. Importantly, we also found that a sub-chronic treatment with the atypical antipsychotic drug, lurasidone, during adolescence was able to prevent the up-regulation of miR-30a and normalized the expression of its target genes in response to PNS exposure. Our results demonstrate that miR-30a undergoes epigenetic changes following early life stress exposure and suggest that this miRNA could play a key role in producing broad and long-lasting alterations in neuroplasticity-related pathways, contributing to the etiology of psychiatric disorders.

Keywords: Axon guidance signaling; DNA methylation; Neurotrophin signaling; Prenatal stress; miR-30a.