The Epigenetic Role of EGR1 during Postnatal Mammalian Brain Development

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


DNA methylation is an epigenetic mechanism critical for tissue development, cell specification and cellular function. Mammalian brains consist of millions to billions of neurons and glial cells that can be subdivided into many distinct types of cells. We hypothesize that brain methylomes are heterogeneously methylated across different types of cells and the transcription factors play key roles in brain methylome programming.

To dissect brain methylome heterogeneity, in Chapter 2, we first focused on the identification of cell-subset specific methylated (CSM) loci which demonstrate bipolar DNA methylation pattern, i.e., hypermethylated in one cell subset but hypomethylated in others. With the genome-scale hairpin bisulfite sequencing approach, we demonstrated that the majority of CSM loci predicted likely resulted from the methylation differences among brain cells rather than from asymmetric DNA methylation between DNA double strands. Importantly, we found that putative CSM loci increased dramatically during early stages of brain development and were enriched for GWAS variants associated with neurological disorder-related diseases/traits. It suggests the important role of putative CSM loci during brain development, implying that dramatic changes in functions and complexities of the brain may be companied by a rapid change in epigenetic heterogeneity.

To explore epigenetic regulatory mechanisms during brain development, as described in Chapter 3, we adopted unbiased data-driven approaches to re-analyze methylomes for human and mouse frontal cortices at different developmental stages. We predicted Egr1, a transcriptional factor with important roles in neuron maturation, synaptic plasticity, long-term memory formation and learning, plays an essential role in brain epigenetic programming. We performed EGR1 ChIP-seq and validated that thousands of EGR1 binding sites are with cell-type specific methylation patterns established during postnatal frontal cortex development. More specifically, the CpG dinucleotides within these EGR1 binding sites become hypomethylated in mature neurons but remain heavily methylated in glia. We further demonstrated that EGR1 recruits a DNA demethylase TET1 to remove the methylation marks at EGR1 binding sites and activate downstream genes. Also, we found that the frontal cortices from the knockout mice lacking Egr1 or Tet1 share strikingly similar profiles in both gene expression and DNA methylation. Collectively, the study in this dissertation reveals EGR1 programs the brain methylome together with TET1 during postnatal development. This study also provides new insights into how life experience and neuronal activity may shape the brain methylome.



DNA methylation, EGR1, TET1, bipolar DNA methylation, differentially methylated regions, bisulfite sequencing