Judging from the luxurious lifestyles of the rich and famous, it would seem there’s no denying the wonders of an enriched environment. Even at an epigenetic scale, enhancing your environment properly and with a bit of personal restraint leads to improvements in the brain aplenty, including learning and memory. A team from Emory University characterized the 5hmC dynamics of the brain’s hippocampus, a region where a lot of that fancy book learn’n takes place at an exciting pace, but then slows down as we age, and show what different environments can do to it.
At the molecular level, 5hmC represents about 40% of the brains cytosine modifications and given it’s dynamic nature, it may just unravel many of the brain’s mysteries. By exposing both young and adult mice to an enriched environment (including diet, exercise, and social interactions) here’s what they found in comparison to those living in a more ‘standard’ environment (pizza and beer?):
- Significant improvements from the aged mice in learning and memory tasks.
- A reduction of 5hmC abundance in the brain’s hippocampus.
- Adding function to finding, the reduction of hippocampal 5hmC is enriched for in the gene bodies of axon guidance genes that are responsible for establishing neural connections.
The findings leave the team concluding that enjoying the luxuries of life may modulate 5hmC dynamics in the hippocampus, where it contributes to improvements in aged brains.
In the bigger picture, this research also gives a solid of example of gene-environment interactions mediated by epigenomic dynamics affecting one of nature’s most complex traits.
Enrich your science over at Genomics, September 2014