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Chronic corticosterone exposure in rats induces sex-specific alterations in hypothalamic reelin fragments, MeCP2, and DNMT3a protein levels.

Neuroscience Letters 2024 April 13
Women are disproportionately affected by stress-related disorders like depression. In our prior research, we discovered that females exhibit lower basal hypothalamic reelin levels, and these levels are differentially influenced by chronic stress induced through repeated corticosterone (CORT) injections. Although epigenetic mechanisms involving DNA methylation and the formation of repressor complexes by DNA methyl-transferases (DNMTs) and Methyl-CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2) have been recognized as regulators of reelin expression in vitro, there is limited understanding of the impact of stress on the epigenetic regulation of reelin in vivo and whether sex differences exist in these mechanisms. To address these questions, we conducted various biochemical analyses on hypothalamic brain samples obtained from male and female rats previously treated with either 21 days of CORT (40 mg/kg) or vehicle (0.9 % saline) subcutaneous injections. Upon chronic CORT treatment, a reduction in reelin fragment NR2 was noted in males, while the full-length molecule remained unaffected. This decrease paralleled with an elevation in MeCP2 and a reduction in DNMT3a protein levels only in males. Importantly, sex differences in baseline and CORT-induced reelin protein levels were not associated with changes in the methylation status of the Reln promoter. These findings suggest that CORT-induced reelin decreases in the hypothalamus may be a combination of alterations in downstream processes beyond gene transcription. This research brings novel insights into the sexually distinct consequences of chronic stress, an essential aspect to understand, particularly concerning its role in the development of depression.

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