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Photoperiod-induced neurotransmitter plasticity declines with aging: An epigenetic regulation?

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Neuroplasticity has classically been understood to arise through changes in synaptic strength or synaptic connectivity. A newly discovered form of neuroplasticity, neurotransmitter switching, involves changes in neurotransmitter identity. Chronic exposure to different photoperiods alters the number of dopamine (tyrosine hydroxylase, TH+) and somatostatin (SST+) neurons in the paraventricular nucleus (PaVN) of the hypothalamus of adult rats and results in discrete behavioral changes. Here, we investigate whether photoperiod-induced neurotransmitter switching persists during aging and whether epigenetic mechanisms of histone acetylation and DNA methylation may contribute to this neurotransmitter plasticity. We show that this plasticity in rats is robust at 1 and at 3 months but reduced in TH+ neurons at 12 months and completely abolished in both TH+ and SST+ neurons by 18 months. De novo expression of DNMT3a catalyzing DNA methylation and anti-AcetylH3 assessing histone 3 acetylation were observed following short-day photoperiod exposure in both TH+ and SST+ neurons at 1 and 3 months while an overall increase in DNMT3a in SST+ neurons paralleled neuroplasticity reduction at 12 and 18 months. Histone acetylation increased in TH+ neurons and decreased in SST+ neurons following short-day exposure at 3 months while the total number of anti-AcetylH3+ PaVN neurons remained constant. Reciprocal histone acetylation in TH+ and SST+ neurons indicates the importance of studying epigenetic regulation at the circuit level for identified cell phenotypes. The findings may be useful for developing approaches for noninvasive treatment of disorders characterized by neurotransmitter dysfunction.

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