Epigenetic regulation of serotonin transporter expression and behavior in infant rhesus macaques.
ABSTRACT: Epigenetic mechanisms may moderate genetic and environmental risk (GxE) for mood disorders. We used an experimental rhesus macaque model of early life stress to test whether epigenetic regulation of serotonin transporter (5-HTT) may contribute to GxE interactions that influence behavior and emotion. We hypothesized that peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) DNA methylation within an 800 bp cytosine-phosphate-guanosine (CpG) island that overlaps with the 5-HTT transcription initiation start site, a hypothesized model of the same genomic region in brain tissue, would mediate or moderate the effects of early life stress and a functional 5-HTT promoter polymorphism (rh5-HTTLPR) on two outcomes: PBMC 5-HTT expression and behavioral stress reactivity. Eighty-seven infant rhesus macaques (3-4 months of age) were either mother reared in large social groups (n = 70) or nursery reared (n = 17). During a maternal/social separation, infants' blood was sampled and behavioral stress reactivity recorded. PBMC DNA and RNA samples were used to determine rh5-HTTLPR genotype, 5-HTT mRNA expression using quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) and 5-HTT CpG methylation status using sodium bisulfite pyrosequencing. Consistent with human data, carriers of the low-expressing rh5-HTTLPR alleles exhibited higher mean 5-HTT CpG methylation, which was associated with lower PBMC 5-HTT expression. Higher 5-HTT CpG methylation, but not rh5-HTTLPR genotype, exacerbated the effects of early life stress on behavioral stress reactivity in infants. 5-HTT CpG methylation may be an important regulator of 5-HTT expression early in development and may contribute to the risk for mood disorders observed in 'high-risk'5-HTTLPR carriers.
Project description:Serotonin transporter (5-HTT) expression patterns may contribute to the risk for adverse psychological outcomes following early life stress. The present study investigated whether two types of early life stress, maternal and social aggression, and a serotonin transporter gene promoter polymorphism (rh5-HTTLPR) predicted lower post-stressor peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) 5-HTT expression in infant rhesus macaques. We further probed the relationships among these factors and infant behavioral disinhibition within a stressful situation. Fifty-three infants residing with mothers in large, complex social groups were observed over the first 12 postnatal weeks, during which time the rate of aggression received by the infant from their mothers and social group members was recorded. At 90-120 days of age, infants underwent a 25-h maternal separation/biobehavioral assessment, which included standardized behavioral assessments and blood sampling. Infants' rh5-HTTLPR genotypes were determined, and infant 5-HTT expression was quantified from PBMCs collected 8 h after separation. Receipt of aggression from the mother, but not from social group members, was associated with lower post-stressor 5-HTT expression. Lower post-stressor 5-HTT expression, but not receipt of aggression, was associated with disinhibited behavior during assessment. Rh5-HTTLPR genotype was unrelated to any measure. We conclude that 5-HTT regulation is linked with specific, presumably stressful early experiences in infant rhesus macaques. Further, 5-HTT expression predicted behavioral disinhibition, presumably via parallel processes that operate in the brain.
Project description:Associations between altered DNA methylation of the serotonin transporter (5-HTT)-encoding gene SLC6A4 and early life adversity, mood and anxiety disorders, and amygdala reactivity have been reported. However, few studies have examined epigenetic alterations of SLC6A4 in schizophrenia (SZ). We examined CpG sites of SLC6A4, whose DNA methylation levels have been reported to be altered in bipolar disorder, using 3 independent cohorts of patients with SZ and age-matched controls. We found significant hypermethylation of a CpG site in SLC6A4 in male patients with SZ in all 3 cohorts. We showed that chronic administration of risperidone did not affect the DNA methylation status at this CpG site using common marmosets, and that in vitro DNA methylation at this CpG site diminished the promoter activity of SLC6A4. We then genotyped the 5-HTT-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) and investigated the relationship among 5-HTTLPR, DNA methylation, and amygdala volume using brain imaging data. We found that patients harboring low-activity 5-HTTLPR alleles showed hypermethylation and they showed a negative correlation between DNA methylation levels and left amygdala volumes. These results suggest that hypermethylation of the CpG site in SLC6A4 is involved in the pathophysiology of SZ, especially in male patients harboring low-activity 5-HTTLPR alleles.
Project description:Evidence of marked variability in response among people exposed to the same environmental risk implies that individual differences in genetic susceptibility might be at work. The study of such Gene-by-Environment (GxE) interactions has gained momentum. In this article, the authors review research about one of the most extensive areas of inquiry: variation in the promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4; also known as 5-HTT) and its contribution to stress sensitivity. Research in this area has both advanced basic science and generated broader lessons for studying complex diseases and traits. The authors evaluate four lines of evidence about the 5-HTT stress-sensitivity hypothesis: 1) observational studies about the serotonin transporter linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR), stress sensitivity, and depression in humans; 2) experimental neuroscience studies about the 5-HTTLPR and biological phenotypes relevant to the human stress response; 3) studies of 5-HTT variation and stress sensitivity in nonhuman primates; and 4) studies of stress sensitivity and genetically engineered 5-HTT mutations in rodents. The authors then dispel some misconceptions and offer recommendations for GxE research. The authors discuss how GxE interaction hypotheses can be tested with large and small samples, how GxE research can be carried out before as well as after replicated gene discovery, the uses of GxE research as a tool for gene discovery, the importance of construct validation in evaluating GxE research, and the contribution of GxE research to the public understanding of genetic science.
Project description:A subset of serotonin (5-HT) pathway polymorphisms has been shown to confer risk for psychological dysfunction, particularly in individuals who experience early adversity. Understanding the developmental processes underlying these Gene x Environment interactions will strengthen the search for risk factors for behavioral dysfunction. We investigated the combined influence of two serotonin pathway polymorphisms and species-atypical, and possibly adverse, rearing (nursery rearing [NR]) on two dimensions of behavioral stress response in infant rhesus macaques. We hypothesized that the experience of NR and possession of both "high-risk" genotypes (genotypes that are thought to confer low 5-HT function) would predict the greatest behavioral stress response to maternal/social separation. Using a matched-pair design, the impact of early experience and the serotonin transporter (rh5-HTTLPR) and monoamine oxidase A (rhMAO-A-LPR) promoter polymorphisms on behavioral reactivity of 136 infant rhesus macaques (90-120 days of age) during a 25-hr social separation/relocation procedure was assessed. Each pair included one infant reared with mother in a large, outdoor field enclosure (field rearing) and one infant reared in a nursery (NR). Pairs were matched for putative gene activity of each polymorphism, sex, age, and weight at testing. Behavioral responses in a "human intruder" test were recorded, and activity and emotional reactivity composites were created to detect different aspects of psychological adaptation to stress. Our hypothesis that high-risk groups would be the most reactive to stress was not entirely borne out. Rh5-HTTLPR x rhMAOA-LPR interactions predicted emotional reactivity and tended to predict behavioral activity scores. Carriers of the two "low-risk" alleles exhibited the lowest behavioral activity, as might be predicted, but carriers of both "high-risk" alleles were two of four genotype groups exhibiting the highest observed Emotional Reactivity. Gene x Gene interactions were exacerbated by the experience of nursery rearing, as predicted, however. Finally, we suggest that genetic or environmental factors may mitigate the risk for behavioral dysregulation illustrated in the patterns of behavioral activity and emotional reactivity displayed by infants.
Project description:A polymorphism in the promoter region of the human serotonin transporter (5-HTT)-coding SLC6A4 gene (5-HTTLPR) has been implicated in moderating susceptibility to stress-related psychopathology and to possess regulatory functions on human in vivo 5-HTT availability. However, data on a direct relation between 5-HTTLPR and in vivo 5-HTT availability have been inconsistent. Additional factors such as epigenetic modifications of 5-HTTLPR might contribute to this association. This is of particular interest in the context of obesity, as an association with 5-HTTLPR hypermethylation has previously been reported. Here, we tested the hypothesis that methylation rates of 14 cytosine-phosphate-guanine (CpG) 5-HTTLPR loci, in vivo central 5-HTT availability as measured with [11C]DASB positron emission tomography (PET) and body mass index (BMI) are related in a group of 30 obese (age: 36±10 years, BMI>35?kg/m2) and 14 normal-weight controls (age 36±7 years, BMI<25?kg/m2). No significant association between 5-HTTLPR methylation and BMI overall was found. However, site-specific elevations in 5-HTTLPR methylation rates were significantly associated with lower 5-HTT availability in regions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) specifically within the obese group when analyzed in isolation. This association was independent of functional 5-HTTLPR allelic variation. In addition, negative correlative data showed that CpG10-associated 5-HTT availability determines levels of reward sensitivity in obesity. Together, our findings suggest that epigenetic mechanisms rather than 5-HTTLPR alone influence in vivo 5-HTT availability, predominantly in regions having a critical role in reward processing, and this might have an impact on the progression of the obese phenotype.
Project description:The serotonin transporter (SERT) gene-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) has been implicated in moderating the link between life stress and depression. However, respective molecular pathways of gene-environment (GxE) interaction are largely unknown. Sustained alterations in SERT gene expression profiles, possibly mediated by epigenetic modifications, are a frequent correlate of depression and may thus constitute a putative mediator of GxE interaction. Here, we aimed to investigate joint effects of 5-HTTLPR and self-reported environmental adversity throughout the lifespan (prenatal, early and recent stress/trauma) on in vivo SERT mRNA expression in peripheral blood cells. To further evaluate whether environmentally induced changes in SERT expression are mediated by epigenetic modifications, we analyzed 83 CpG sites within a 799-bp promoter-associated CpG island of the SERT gene using the highly sensitive method of bisulfite pyrosequencing. Participants were 133 healthy young adults. Our findings show that both the 5-HTTLPR S allele and maternal prenatal stress/child maltreatment are associated with reduced in vivo SERT mRNA expression in an additive manner. Remarkably, individuals carrying both the genetic and the environmental risk factors exhibited 32.8% (prenatal stress) and 56.3% (child maltreatment) lower SERT mRNA levels compared with those without any risk factor. Our data further indicated that changes in SERT mRNA levels were unlikely to be mediated by DNA methylation profiles within the SERT CpG island. It is thus conceivable that the persistent changes in SERT expression may in turn relate to altered serotonergic functioning and possibly convey differential disease vulnerability associated with 5-HTTLPR and early adversity.
Project description:The serotonin transporter gene-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) has been implicated in moderating vulnerability to stress-related psychopathology upon exposure to environmental adversity. A recent meta-analysis suggests a potential biological pathway conveying genotype-dependent stress sensitivity by demonstrating a small, but significant association of 5-HTTLPR and cortisol stress reactivity. An arguably more potent approach to detect larger effects when investigating the 5-HTTLPR stress sensitivity hypothesis is to account for both genetic and epigenetic variation in the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4). Here, we applied this approach in an experimental setting. Two hundred healthy adults were exposed to a laboratory stressor (Trier Social Stress Test) and cortisol response patterns were assessed as a function of 5-HTTLPR and DNA methylation profiles in SLC6A4. Specifically, we analyzed 83 CpG sites within a 799-bp promoter-associated CpG island of SLC6A4 using a highly sensitive bisulfite pyrosequencing method. Our results suggest that SLC6A4 methylation levels significantly moderate the association of 5-HTTLPR and cortisol stress reactivity. For individuals displaying low levels of SLC6A4 methylation, the S allele relates to increased cortisol stress reactivity in a dose-dependent fashion accounting for 7-9% of the variance in the endocrine stress response. By contrast, no such effect occurred under conditions of high SLC6A4 methylation, indicating that epigenetic changes may compensate for genotype-dependent differences in stress sensitivity. Studying epigenetic markers may advance gene-environment interaction research on 5-HTTLPR as they possibly capture the net effects of environmental influences relevant for stress-related phenotypes under serotonergic control.
Project description:A polymorphism in the human serotonin transporter gene promoter (5-HTTLPR) is associated with anxiety and increased risk for developing depression in the face of adversity. Here, we report that among infant rhesus macaques, an orthologous polymorphism (rh5-HTTLPR) interacts with adversity in the form of peer rearing to influence adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) response to stress and, further, that this interaction is sexually dichotomous. ACTH responses to separation are higher in l/s than in l/l males. In females, however, it is only among those with a history of adversity that the s allele is associated with increased ACTH responses to stress. Of interest, peer-reared animals, in particular females carrying the s allele, also exhibit lower cortisol responses to stress, a pattern that has been recognized in association with certain stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders. By extension, our findings suggest the intriguing possibility that human females carrying the 5-HTTLPR s allele could be more vulnerable to the effects of early adversity. This interactive effect may underlie the increased incidence of certain stress-related disorders in women.
Project description:Investigations of gene-environment interaction (GxE) in depression have implicated a polymorphism in the promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) as a moderator of the stress-depression relationship. However, recent evidence for 5-HTTLPR GxE in depression has been inconsistent. This study examined the moderating effect of the val158met polymorphism in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene on the strength of 5-HTTLPR GxE.A community sample of youth (n=384) was genotyped for 5-HTTLPR and COMT. A multi-method, multi-informant index of chronic family stress was derived from interviews and questionnaires administered at youth age 15. GxGxE was examined in relation to depression diagnoses between ages 15 and 20 and depressive symptoms at age 20.Significant three-way interactions were observed for both depressive symptoms and diagnoses, such that 5-HTTLPR GxE occurred only in the context of COMT val158 allele homozygosity. For val158 homozygotes, the 5-HTTLPR LL genotype exerted a protective effect in the face of stress. No genetic main effect or two-way GxE was found for 5-HTTLPR.Inconsistent 5-HTTLPR GxE findings to date may be partly attributable to unmeasured epistatic effects between 5-HTTLPR and COMT val158met. Identifying the conditions under which 5-HTTLPR GxE is most likely to operate may allow depression prevention and treatment efforts to target youth at highest risk.
Project description:DNA methylation profiles of the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4) have been shown to alter SLC6A4 expression, drive antidepressant treatment response and modify brain functions. This study investigated whether methylation of an AluJb element in the SLC6A4 promotor was associated with major depressive disorder (MDD), amygdala reactivity to emotional faces, 5-HTTLPR/rs25531 polymorphism, and recent stress. MDD patients (n=122) and healthy controls (HC, n=176) underwent fMRI during an emotional face-matching task. Individual SLC6A4 AluJb methylation profiles were ascertained and associated with MDD, amygdala reactivity, 5-HTTLPR/rs25531, and stress. SLC6A4 AluJb methylation was significantly lower in MDD compared to HC and in stressed compared to less stressed participants. Lower AluJb methylation was particularly found in 5-HTTLPR/rs25531 risk allele carriers under stress and correlated with less depressive episodes. fMRI analysis revealed a significant interaction of AluJb methylation and diagnosis in the amygdala, with MDD patients showing lower AluJb methylation associated with decreased amygdala reactivity. While no joint effect of AluJb methylation and 5-HTTLPR/rs25531 existed, risk allele carriers showed significantly increased bilateral amygdala activation. These findings suggest a role of SLC6A4 AluJb methylation in MDD, amygdala reactivity, and stress reaction, partly interwoven with 5-HTTLPR/rs25531 effects. Patients with low methylation in conjunction with a shorter MDD history and decreased amygdala reactivity might feature a more stress-adaptive epigenetic process, maybe via theoretically possible endogenous antidepressant-like effects. In contrast, patients with higher methylation might possibly suffer from impaired epigenetic adaption to chronic stress. Further, the 5-HTTLPR/rs25531 association with amygdala activation was confirmed in our large sample.