Histone methylation at gene promoters is associated with developmental regulation and region-specific expression of ionotropic and metabotropic glutamate receptors in human brain


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr Schahram Akbarian, Brudnick Neuropsychiatric Research Institute, Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA 01604, USA. E-mail: Schahram.akbarian@umassmed.edu


Glutamatergic signaling is regulated, in part, through differential expression of NMDA and AMPA/KA channel subunits and G protein-coupled metabotropic receptors. In human brain, region-specific expression patterns of glutamate receptor genes are maintained over the course of decades, suggesting a role for molecular mechanisms involved in long-term regulation of transcription, including methylation of lysine residues at histone N-terminal tails. Using a native chromatin immunoprecipitation assay, we studied histone methylation marks at proximal promoters of 16 ionotropic and metabotropic glutamate receptor genes (GRIN1,2A–D; GRIA1,3,4; GRIK2,4,5; GRM1,3,4,6,7 ) in cerebellar cortex collected across a wide age range from midgestation to 90 years old. Levels of di- and trimethylated histone H3-lysine 4, which are associated with open chromatin and transcription, showed significant differences between promoters and a robust correlation with corresponding mRNA levels in immature and mature cerebellar cortex. In contrast, levels of trimethylated H3-lysine 27 and H4-lysine 20, two histone modifications defining silenced or condensed chromatin, did not correlate with transcription but were up-regulated overall in adult cerebellum. Furthermore, differential gene expression patterns in prefrontal and cerebellar cortex were reflected by similar differences in H3-lysine 4 methylation at promoters. Together, these findings suggest that histone lysine methylation at gene promoters is involved in developmental regulation and maintenance of region-specific expression patterns of ionotropic and metabotropic glutamate receptors. The association of a specific epigenetic mark, H3-(methyl)-lysine 4, with the molecular architecture of glutamatergic signaling in human brain has potential implications for schizophrenia and other disorders with altered glutamate receptor function.