Genome-wide Methyl-Seq analysis of blood-brain targets of glucocorticoid exposure

Fayaz Seifuddin, Gary Wand, Olivia Cox, Mehdi Pirooznia, Laura Moody, Xiaoju Yang, Jonathan Tai, Gretha Boersma, Kellie Tamashiro, Peter Zandi, Richard Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Chronic exposure to glucocorticoids (GCs) can lead to psychiatric complications through epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation (DNAm). We sought to determine whether epigenetic changes in a peripheral tissue can serve as a surrogate for those in a relatively inaccessible tissue such as the brain. DNA extracted from the hippocampus and blood of mice treated with GCs or vehicle solution was assayed using a genome-wide DNAm platform (Methyl-Seq) to identify differentially methylated regions (DMRs) induced by GC treatment. We observed that ∼70% of the DMRs in both tissues lost methylation following GC treatment. Of the 3,095 DMRs that mapped to the same genes in both tissues, 1,853 DMRs underwent DNAm changes in the same direction. Interestingly, only 209 DMRs (<7%) overlapped in genomic coordinates between the 2 tissues, suggesting tissue-specific differences in GC-targeted loci. Pathway analysis showed that the DMR-associated genes were members of pathways involved in metabolism, immune function, and neurodevelopment. Also, changes in cell type composition of blood and brain were examined by fluorescence-activated cell sorting. Separation of the cortex into neuronal and non-neuronal fractions and the leukocytes into T-cells, B-cells, and neutrophils showed that GC-induced methylation changes primarily occurred in neurons and T-cells, with the blood tissue also undergoing a shift in the proportion of constituent cell types while the proportion of neurons and glia in the brain remained stable. From the current pilot study, we found that despite tissue-specific epigenetic changes and cellular heterogeneity, blood can serve as a surrogate for GC-induced changes in the brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)637-652
Number of pages16
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 3 2017


  • Biomarker
  • Cushing's disease
  • DNA methylation
  • blood-brain correlation
  • epigenetics
  • glucocorticoids
  • tissue heterogeneity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cancer Research


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