A measure of glucocorticoid load provided by DNA methylation of Fkbp5 in mice
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- Lee, R.S., Tamashiro, K.L.K., Yang, X. et al. Psychopharmacology (2011) 218: 303. doi:10.1007/s00213-011-2307-3
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Given the contribution of cortisol dysregulation to neuropsychiatric and metabolic disorders, it is important to be able to accurately compute glucocorticoid burden, a measure of allostatic load. One major problem in calculating cortisol burden is that existing measures reflect cortisol exposure over a short duration and have not been proven to reliably quantify cortisol burden over weeks or months.
We treated two cohorts of mice with corticosterone in the drinking water and determined the relationship between serial plasma corticosterone levels drawn over 4 weeks and the whole-blood DNA methylation (DNAm) changes in a specific glucocorticoid-sensitive gene, Fkbp5, determined at the end of the treatment period.
We observed that the percent reduction in DNAm in the intron 1 region of Fkbp5 determined from a single blood draw strongly reflected average glucocorticoid burden generated weekly during the prior month of glucocorticoid exposure. There were also strong correlations in DNAm with glucocorticoid-induced end organ changes in spleen weight and visceral fat. We tested a subset of these animals for anxiety-like behavior in the elevated plus maze and found that DNAm in the blood also has predictive value in determining the behavioral consequences of glucocorticoid exposure.
A whole-blood assessment of Fkbp5 gene methylation is a biomarker that integrates 4 weeks of glucocorticoid exposure and may be a useful measure in states of excess exposure. It will be important to determine if Fkbp5 DNAm changes can also be a biomarker of glucocorticoid burden during chronic social stress.