Regulation of Social Stress and Neural Degeneration by Activity-Regulated Genes and Epigenetic Mechanisms in Dopaminergic Neurons

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Molecular Neurobiology


Transcriptional and epigenetic regulation of both dopaminergic neurons and their accompanying glial cells is of great interest in the search for therapies for neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease (PD). In this review, we collate transcriptional and epigenetic changes identified in adult Drosophila melanogaster dopaminergic neurons in response to either prolonged social deprivation or social enrichment, and compare them with changes identified in mammalian dopaminergic neurons during normal development, stress, injury, and neurodegeneration. Surprisingly, a small set of activity-regulated genes (ARG) encoding transcription factors, and a specific pattern of epigenetic marks on gene promoters, are conserved in dopaminergic neurons over the long evolutionary period between mammals and insects. In addition to their classical function as immediate early genes to mark acute neuronal activity, these ARG transcription factors are repurposed in both insects and mammals to respond to chronic perturbations such as social enrichment, social stress, nerve injury, and neurodegeneration. We suggest that these ARG transcription factors and epigenetic marks may represent important targets for future therapeutic intervention strategies in various neurodegenerative disorders including PD.

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