Histone H3 lysine K4 methylation and its role in learning and memory

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Epigenetic modifications such as histone methylation permit change in chromatin structure without accompanying change in the underlying genomic sequence. A number of studies in animal models have shown that dysregulation of various components of the epigenetic machinery causes cognitive deficits at the behavioral level, suggesting that proper epigenetic control is necessary for the fundamental processes of learning and memory. Histone H3 lysine K4 (H3K4) methylation comprises one component of such epigenetic control, and global levels of this mark are increased in the hippocampus during memory formation. Modifiers of H3K4 methylation are needed for memory formation, shown through animal studies, and many of the same modifiers are mutated in human cognitive diseases. Indeed, all of the known H3K4 methyltransferases and four of the known six H3K4 demethylases have been associated with impaired cognition in a neurologic or psychiatric disorder. Cognitive impairment in such patients often manifests as intellectual disability, consistent with a role for H3K4 methylation in learning and memory. As a modification quintessentially, but not exclusively, associated with transcriptional activity, H3K4 methylation provides unique insights into the regulatory complexity of writing, reading, and erasing chromatin marks within an activated neuron. The following review will discuss H3K4 methylation and connect it to transcriptional events required for learning and memory within the developed nervous system. This will include an initial discussion of the most recent advances in the developing methodology to analyze H3K4 methylation, namely mass spectrometry and deep sequencing, as well as how these methods can be applied to more deeply understand the biology of this mark in the brain. We will then introduce the core enzymatic machinery mediating addition and removal of H3K4 methylation marks and the resulting epigenetic signatures of these marks throughout the neuronal genome. We next foray into the brain, discussing changes in H3K4 methylation marks within the hippocampus during memory formation and retrieval, as well as the behavioral correlates of H3K4 methyltransferase deficiency in this region. Finally, we discuss the human cognitive diseases connected to each H3K4 methylation modulator and summarize advances in developing drugs to target them.




Collins, B. E., Greer, C. B., Coleman, B. C., & Sweatt, J. D. (2019, January 7). Histone H3 lysine K4 methylation and its role in learning and memory. Epigenetics and Chromatin. BioMed Central Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13072-018-0251-8

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