Prenatal Nutritional Deficiency Reprogrammed Postnatal Gene Expression in Mammal Brains: Implications for Schizophrenia

Jiawei Xu, Guang He, Jingde Zhu, Xinyao Zhou, David St Clair, Teng Wang, Yuqian Xiang, Qingzhu Zhao, Qinghe Xing, Yun Liu, Lei Wang, Qiaoli Li, Lin He, Xinzhi Zhao

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29 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Epidemiological studies have identified prenatal exposure to famine as a risk factor for schizophrenia, and animal models of prenatal malnutrition display structural and functional brain abnormalities implicated in schizophrenia. Methods: The offspring of the RLP50 rat, a recently developed animal model of prenatal famine malnutrition exposure, was used to investigate the changes of gene expression and epigenetic modifications in the brain regions. Microarray gene expression analysis was carried out in the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus from 8 RLP50 offspring rats and 8 controls. MBD-seq was used to test the changes in DNA methylation in hippocampus depending on prenatal malnutrition exposure. Results: In the prefrontal cortex, offspring of RLP50 exhibit differences in neurotransmitters and olfactory-associated gene expression. In the hippocampus, the differentially-expressed genes are related to synaptic function and transcription regulation. DNA methylome profiling of the hippocampus also shows widespread but systematic epigenetic changes; in most cases (87%) this involves hypermethylation. Remarkably, genes encoded for the plasma membrane are significantly enriched for changes in both gene expression and DNA methylome profiling screens (p = 2.37 × 10-9 and 5.36 × 10-9, respectively). Interestingly, Mecp2 and Slc2a1, two genes associated with cognitive impairment, show significant down-regulation, and Slc2a1 is hypermethylated in the hippocampus of the RLP50 offspring. Conclusions: Collectively, our results indicate that prenatal exposure to malnutrition leads to the reprogramming of postnatal brain gene expression and that the epigenetic modifications contribute to the reprogramming. The process may impair learning and memory ability and result in higher susceptibility to schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberpyu054
JournalInternational Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology
Issue number4
Early online date24 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by the 973 Program (2009825606 to Xinzhi Zhao, 2010CB529600 to Guang He), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (30800616 to Xinzhi Zhao, 31171237 to Guang He, 81121001 to Lei Wang), the National Key Technology R&D Program (2012BAI01B09 to Lin He), the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Science and Technology Program (09DJ1400601 to Lin He), the Shanghai Rising-Star Program (09QA1400500 to Xinzhi Zhao) and the Shanghai Leading Academic Discipline Project (B205). Drs Xu and G He designed and conducted the experiments and collected data. Dr J.ZH. also analyzed data and prepared the first draft of the manuscript. Dr Zhu designed and supervised experiments involving MBD sequencing. Drs T. Wang, Xiang, and Xinyao Zhou provided help in performing experiments and contributed to discussions. Drs Xing and St Clair helped in data analyses and in writing the manuscript. Dr Liu provided technical help in next-generation sequencing. Dr L Wang provided technical help in DNA methylation validation using MassARRAY platform. Dr Li provided reagents and technical advice. Dr Lin He supervised the project and edited the manuscript. Dr Guang He designed the experiments and edited the manuscript. Dr Xinzhi Zhao designed and supervised experiments analyzed data and wrote the manuscript. This work was supported by grants to Drs Lin He Guang He, and Xinzhi Zhao.


  • DNA methylation
  • Hippocampus
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Schizophrenia
  • Transcriptome


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