DNA Methylation and Establishing Memory

Epigenet Insights. 2022 Jan 19:15:25168657211072499. doi: 10.1177/25168657211072499. eCollection 2022.


A single event can cause a life-long memory. Memories physically reside in neurons, and changes in neuronal gene expression are considered to be central to memory. Early models proposed that specific DNA methylations of cytosines in neuronal DNA encode memories in a stable biochemical form. This review describes recent research that elucidates the molecular mechanisms used by the mammalian brain to form DNA methylcytosine encoded memories. For example, neuron activation initiates cytosine demethylation by stimulating DNA topoisomerase II beta (TOP2B) protein to make a temporary DNA double-strand break (repaired within about 2 hours) at a promoter of an immediate early gene, EGR1, allowing expression of this gene. The EGR1 proteins then recruit methylcytosine dioxygenase TET1 proteins to initiate demethylation at several hundred genes, facilitating expression of those genes. Initiation of demethylation of cytosine also occurs when OGG1 localizes at oxidized guanine in a methylated CpG site and recruits TET1 for initiation of demethylation at that site. DNMT3A2 is another immediate early gene upregulated by synaptic activity. DNMT3A2 protein catalyzes de novo DNA methylations. These several mechanisms convert external experiences into DNA methylations and initiated demethylations of neuronal DNA cytosines, causing changes in gene expression that are the basis of long-term memories.

Keywords: 8-oxoguanine glycosylase (OGG1); DNA demethylation; DNA methylation; DNA methyltransferase (DNMT); TET enzymes; cortex; early growth response gene 1 (EGR1); hippocampus; immediate early gene (IEG); long-term memory; memory; neuron; topoisomerase II beta.

Publication types

  • Review