Environmental stressors during childhood and adolescence influence postnatal brain maturation and human behavioral patterns in adulthood. Accordingly, excess stressors result in adult-onset neuropsychiatric disorders. We describe an underlying mechanism in which glucocorticoids link adolescent stressors to epigenetic controls in neurons. In a mouse model of this phenomenon, a mild isolation stress affects the mesocortical projection of dopaminergic neurons in which DNA hypermethylation of the tyrosine hydroxylase gene is elicited, but only when combined with a relevant genetic risk for neuropsychiatric disorders. These molecular changes are associated with several neurochemical and behavioral deficits that occur in this mouse model, all of which are blocked by a glucocorticoid receptor antagonist. The biology and phenotypes of the mouse models resemble those of psychotic depression, a common and debilitating psychiatric disease.
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