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Learning-dependent chromatin remodeling highlights noncoding regulatory regions linked to autism

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Sci. Signal.  16 Jan 2018:
Vol. 11, Issue 513, eaan6500
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.aan6500

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Deciphering the chromatin in learning and autism

Both development and learning are shaped through epigenetics—modifications to the DNA or chromatin that alter gene expression without changing the underlying DNA sequence. The intellectual disorder ASD (autism spectrum disorder) is idiopathic, but it is associated with changes in gene expression that alter the development of neuronal circuitry in the brain and impair some forms of learning. Using a new technique called DEScan, Koberstein et al. explored learning-induced changes to the epigenetic landscape of the hippocampus (a region critical for memory) in mice. They found that learning was mediated through changes to regulatory regions, particularly the activation of alternative promoters, of many genes associated with ASD. These findings identify an epigenetic source of one gene alteration associated with ASD and, more broadly, demonstrate a new technique for exploring learning disorders in animal models.