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Developmental conditions modulate DNA methylation at the glucocorticoid receptor gene with cascading effects on expression and corticosterone levels in zebra finches

AuthorsJimeno, Blanca; Hau, Michaela; Gómez-Díaz, Elena ; Verhulst, Simon
Issue Date2019
PublisherNature Publishing Group
CitationScientific Reports, 9: 15869 (2019)
AbstractDevelopmental conditions can impact the adult phenotype via epigenetic changes that modulate gene expression. In mammals, methylation of the glucocorticoid receptor gene Nr3c1 has been implicated as mediator of long-term effects of developmental conditions, but this evidence is limited to humans and rodents, and few studies have simultaneously tested for associations between DNA methylation, gene expression and phenotype. Adverse environmental conditions during early life (large natal brood size) or adulthood (high foraging costs) exert multiple long-term phenotypic effects in zebra finches, and we here test for effects of these manipulations on DNA methylation and expression of the Nr3c1 gene in blood. Having been reared in a large brood induced higher DNA methylation of the Nr3c1 regulatory region in adulthood, and this effect persisted over years. Nr3c1 expression was negatively correlated with methylation at 2 out of 8 CpG sites, and was lower in hard foraging conditions, despite foraging conditions having no effect on Nr3c1 methylation at our target region. Nr3c1 expression also correlated with glucocorticoid traits: higher expression level was associated with lower plasma baseline corticosterone concentrations and enhanced corticosterone reactivity. Our results suggest that methylation of the Nr3c1 regulatory region can contribute to the mechanisms underlying the emergence of long-term effects of developmental conditions in birds, but in our system current adversity dominated over early life experiences with respect to receptor expression
Publisher version (URL)https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-52203-8
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