JUN 11, 2017 7:18 PM PDT

Genetic Activity in the Brain Changes in Response to Social Stress

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

An intricate relationship exists between gene activity and social experience. Looking at mice being challenged by other mice in staged interaction experiments, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign illustrate changes occurring in the brain when an animal’s experiences influence its behavior.

Study leader Lisa Stubbs and her research team designed a series of experiments where one mouse intruded upon the habitat of a second mouse, looking at gene activity across interacting brain regions in response to the challenge. They calculated the activity of genes from different parts of the brain, including the frontal cortex, hypothalamus, and amygdala. This wide range of quantification is based on gene interactions changing over time, interactions differing among tissue types, and genes being defined, in part, by how they interact with other genes.

While analyzing gene interactions, researchers looked for the involvement of specific transcription factors, as well as any links between gene responses to social experience and their “epigenetic state,” or their gene expression. Epigenetic modification to the chromatin structure - the way DNA is packaged in a cell - affects the way a particular gene is expressed.

From their controlled gene network study, they found a significant amount of gene activity related to metabolism and neurochemical signaling, indicating that social stress may change the way brain cells “consume energy and communicate with one another.”

"We found that the chromatin landscape is profoundly remodeled over a very short time in the brain regions responding to social challenge," said Stubbs. "This is surprising because chromatin profiles are thought to be relatively stable in adult tissues over time."

The findings from the mouse experiments also resembled findings from a similar study in honey bees. "As we examined the regulatory networks active in the mouse brain over time, we could see that some of the same pathways already explicated in honey bees... were also dysregulated similarly by social challenge in mice," Stubbs explained. "That cross-species concordance is extremely exciting and opens new doors to experimentation that is not being pursued actively by other research groups."

The recent study is a strong example of the kind of findings that can be gleaned from genetic models in animals like mice, providing scientists with dependable data that can be applied to studies of more complex animal models and - eventually - human studies. Mice are not by far the only animals who experience social stress and social behavior disorders, and researchers have a lot left to uncover about how genetic activity in the brain changes in response to these social challenges.

The present study was published in the journal Genome Research.

Source: Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
FEB 24, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
FEB 24, 2020
Circular RNAs May Play a Role in Psychiatric Disorders
The genome contains the sequences for many genes that code for proteins. There are also regions and chemical tags that h ...
FEB 26, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
FEB 26, 2020
Optogenetic Techniques Provide Insight Into ALS
In humans, motor neurons link thoughts with the motion of the body. Now researchers have learned more about how they are ...
FEB 28, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
FEB 28, 2020
Pharmaceutical CBD Better for Epilepsy than Artisanal CBD
New research has found that children and teenagers suffering from epilepsy had significantly better seizure control when ...
MAR 08, 2020
Neuroscience
MAR 08, 2020
Brain Scans Reveal There are Two Kinds of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a chronic neurological disorder that affects around 3.5 million people in the US; three quarters of the ...
APR 15, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
APR 15, 2020
Sugar's Appeal Lies in a Circuit That Connects the Gut & Brain
New work may help explain why sugar cravings are so hard to satisfy.
APR 08, 2020
Neuroscience
APR 08, 2020
Study Catalogs Mouse Facial Expressions
It's easy to gauge a dog or cat's emotion by reading their facial expression, but the same has been historically ...
Loading Comments...