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Open Access Research

Decitabine alters the expression of Mecp2 isoforms via dynamic DNA methylation at the Mecp2 regulatory elements in neural stem cells

Vichithra R B Liyanage, Robby M Zachariah and Mojgan Rastegar*

Author Affiliations

Regenerative Medicine Program, Department of Biochemistry and Medical Genetics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Manitoba, Rm. 627, Basic Medical Sciences Bldg., 745 Bannatyne Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3E 0J9, Canada

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Molecular Autism 2013, 4:46  doi:10.1186/2040-2392-4-46

Published: 15 November 2013

Abstract

Background

Aberrant MeCP2 expression in brain is associated with neurodevelopmental disorders including autism. In the brain of stressed mouse and autistic human patients, reduced MeCP2 expression is correlated with Mecp2/MECP2 promoter hypermethylation. Altered expression of MeCP2 isoforms (MeCP2E1 and MeCP2E2) is associated with neurological disorders, highlighting the importance of proper regulation of both isoforms. While known regulatory elements (REs) within the MECP2/Mecp2 promoter and intron 1 are involved in MECP2/Mecp2 regulation, Mecp2 isoform-specific regulatory mechanisms are unknown. We hypothesized that DNA methylation at these REs may impact the expression of Mecp2 isoforms.

Methods

We used a previously characterized in vitro differentiating neural stem cell (NSC) system to investigate the interplay between Mecp2 isoform-specific expression and DNA methylation at the Mecp2 REs. We studied altered expression of Mecp2 isoforms, affected by global DNA demethylation and remethylation, induced by exposure and withdrawal of decitabine (5-Aza-2′-deoxycytidine). Further, we performed correlation analysis between DNA methylation at the Mecp2 REs and the expression of Mecp2 isoforms after decitabine exposure and withdrawal.

Results

At different stages of NSC differentiation, Mecp2 isoforms showed reciprocal expression patterns associated with minor, but significant changes in DNA methylation at the Mecp2 REs. Decitabine treatment induced Mecp2e1/MeCP2E1 (but not Mecp2e2) expression at day (D) 2, associated with DNA demethylation at the Mecp2 REs. In contrast, decitabine withdrawal downregulated both Mecp2 isoforms to different extents at D8, without affecting DNA methylation at the Mecp2 REs. NSC cell fate commitment was minimally affected by decitabine under tested conditions. Expression of both isoforms negatively correlated with methylation at specific regions of the Mecp2 promoter, both at D2 and D8. The correlation between intron 1 methylation and Mecp2e1 (but not Mecp2e2) varied depending on the stage of NSC differentiation (D2: negative; D8: positive).

Conclusions

Our results show the correlation between the expression of Mecp2 isoforms and DNA methylation in differentiating NSC, providing insights on the potential role of DNA methylation at the Mecp2 REs in Mecp2 isoform-specific expression. The ability of decitabine to induce Mecp2e1/MeCP2E1, but not Mecp2e2 suggests differential sensitivity of Mecp2 isoforms to decitabine and is important for future drug therapies for autism.

Keywords:
Epigenetics; Mecp2e1; Mecp2e2; Decitabine/5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine; DNA methylation; Autism