Weighing in at just above 600 pages, Epigenetics in Psychiatry sets out to cover emerging research interests in the world of neuroepigenomics and it’s translation to the clinic. A collection of reviews, rather than a more standard textbook, it is written by researchers in the field with a focus on the background of their research and the contributions it has made to the field. The work is aimed at those exploring the frontiers of epigenetics and psychiatric disorders, with a reading level for those at a graduate level or above and coming from a clinical rather than basic research background. The chapter reviews cover the breadth of psychiatric epigenetics, ranging from stem cells to cognitive disorders to transgenerational inheritance.
Epigenetics in the Neural Stem Cell and Neuron
This section offers up an introduction to the stem cell dynamics of the nervous system. It starts with ‘textbook’ cortical development and details how neural stem cells systematically gain the ability to differentiate into neurons and glial cells by responding to a number factors that are spatiotemporally regulated. Essentially, the neurons create layers that are somewhat reminiscent of the principles of Waddingtons epigenetic landscape.
Different combinations of trans acting factors are able to regulate chromatin architecture and can have different results depending on the initial epigenetic status of the stem cell. Interestingly and very relevant to disease, is the fact that fully differentiated post-mitotic neurons show a large amount of plasticity when it comes to temporary environmental exposures. The chapter ends with the outlook that the epigenomic profiles of neurons are much more clear cut than other neuronal cell types and discusses the relevance of this for iPSCs and just how this can be used to “jailbreak” them and build neural networks.
The Social Environment
This chapter starts by introducing one of the most interesting research directions; how epigenetic variation can result in behavioral differences that were previously believed to be caused by genetic variation alone. It discusses the dynamics of chromatin and DNA methylation, and how they are defined by sequence specific factors that can respond to the environment. It also highlights the discovery and mechanisms behind the classical example of paternal care and the HPA (stress) axis.
The summary offers optimism for the treatment of psychiatric disorders by highlighting the reversible nature of changes induced by environment and social factors. The section concludes with an interesting observation from studies in rodents and humans that show that genes related to neuroplasticity and stress are epigenetically responsive outside of the critical windows of development and well into adulthood.
The EpiGenie Verdict
While focused more on detail than larger themes, this text dishes out a lot of the latest findings in psychiatric epigenetics and is suited for clinical researchers looking to up their basic and translational game. It’s probably not aimed for the classroom, but the key concept summaries will definitely help keep your eye on the prize.
Get your copy of Epigenetics in Psychiatry at Elsevier’s Academic Press