There is evidence for hypercortisolemia playing a role in the generation of psychiatric symptoms and for epigenetic variation within hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis genes mediating behavioral changes. We tested the hypothesis that expression changes would be induced in Fkbp5 and other HPA axis genes by chronic exposure to corticosterone and that these changes would occur through the epigenetic mechanism of loss or gain of DNA methylation (DNAm). We administered corticosterone (CORT) to C57BL/6J mice via their drinking water for 4 wk and tested for behavioral and physiological changes and changes in gene expression levels using RNA extracted from hippocampus, hypothalamus, and blood for the following HPA genes: Fkbp5, Nr3c1, Hsp90, Crh, and Crhr1. The CORT mice exhibited anxiety-like behavior in the elevated plus maze test. Chronic exposure to CORT also caused a significant decrease in the hippocampal and blood mRNA levels of Nr3c1 and a decrease in Hsp90 in blood and caused an increase in Fkbp5 for all tissues. Differences were seen in Fkbp5 methylation in hippocampus and hypothalamus. To isolate a single-cell type, we followed up with an HT-22 mouse hippocampal neuronal cell line exposed to CORT. After 7 d, we observed a 2.4-fold increase in Fkbp5 expression and adecrease in DNAm. In the CORT-treated mice, we also observed changes in blood DNAm in Fkbp5. Our results suggest DNAm plays a role in mediating effects of glucocorticoid exposure on Fkbp5 function, with potential consequences for behavior.
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