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Epigenetic mechanisms and associated brain circuits in the regulation of positive emotions: A role for transposable elements

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Epigenetic programming and reprogramming are at the heart of cellular differentiation and represent developmental and evolutionary mechanisms in both germline and somatic cell lines. Only about 2% of our genome is composed of protein-coding genes, while the remaining 98%, once considered "junk" DNA, codes for regulatory/epigenetic elements that control how genes are expressed in different tissues and across time from conception to death. While we already know that epigenetic mechanisms are at play in cancer development and in regulating metabolism (cellular and whole body), the role of epigenetics in the developing prenatal and postnatal brain, and in maintaining a proper brain activity throughout the various stages of life, in addition to having played a critical role in human evolution, is a relatively new domain of knowledge. Here we present the current state-of-the-art techniques and results of these studies within the domain of emotions, and then speculate on how genomic and epigenetic mechanisms can modify and potentially alter our emotional (limbic) brain and affect our social interactions. J. Comp. Neurol. 524:2944-2954, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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