Epigenetic mechanisms underlying perinatal stress (PNS)-induced transgenerational neuronal and synaptic changes in prefronto-limbic-hypothalamic (PLH) circuits of rodents

This subproject will mirror the familial transmission of dysfunctional mother-child bonding in an animal model. A number of animal studies conducted in the last few decades in which chronic or repeated perinatal stress (e.g., maternal separation) was induced to mimic human early life stress and neglect revealed that the maturation of neuronal pathways and socioemotional behavior is altered in these animals. So far, neither the brain functions nor the epigenetic mechanisms underlying these trauma-induced neuronal and behavioral changes are understood. Epigenetics is most commonly defined as the ensemble of heritable alterations in gene functions that cannot be explained by changes in the DNA sequence itself. Depending on the type of modification, this can result in actively transcribed or silenced genes. The first focus of this subproject is to test the hypothesis that maternal care interferes with the functional maturation of prefronto-limbic-hypothalamic pathways. The second focus will address the hypothesis that functional and structural changes in the brain, and consequently stable behavioral changes, are induced by epigenetic alterations (DNA methylation and histone modifications) evoked by changes in maternal care. The third focus will be on intervention. It is known that brief daily handling can improve neuronal and behavioral maturation by augmenting maternal care. Moreover, this manipulation can reverse or restore behavioral and neuromorphological dysfunctions induced by perinatal stress.

Institute of Biology, Zoology and Developmental Neurobiology:

project management: PD Dr. rer. nat. Jörg Bock, Prof. Dr. PhD Anna Katharina Braun
research associate: Dr. rer. nat. Kathy Rether