Epigenetic Modulation of Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis by Extremely Low-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields

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Abstract

Throughout life, adult neurogenesis generates new neurons in the dentate gyrus of hippocampus that have a critical role in memory formation. Strategies able to stimulate this endogenous process have raised considerable interest because of their potential use to treat neurological disorders entailing cognitive impairment. We previously reported that mice exposed to extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields (ELFEFs) showed increased hippocampal neurogenesis. Here, we demonstrate that the ELFEF-dependent enhancement of hippocampal neurogenesis improves spatial learning and memory. To gain insights on the molecular mechanisms underlying ELFEFs’ effects, we extended our studies to an in vitro model of neural stem cells (NSCs) isolated from the hippocampi of newborn mice. We found that ELFEFs enhanced proliferation and neuronal differentiation of hippocampal NSCs by regulation of epigenetic mechanisms leading to pro-neuronal gene expression. Upon ELFEF stimulation of NSCs, we observed a significant enhancement of expression of the pro-proliferative gene hairy enhancer of split 1 and the neuronal determination genes NeuroD1 and Neurogenin1. These events were preceded by increased acetylation of H3K9 and binding of the phosphorylated transcription factor cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) on the regulatory sequence of these genes. Such ELFEF-dependent epigenetic modifications were prevented by the Cav1-channel blocker nifedipine, and were associated with increased occupancy of CREB-binding protein (CBP) to the same loci within the analyzed promoters. Our results unravel the molecular mechanisms underlying the ELFEFs’ ability to improve endogenous neurogenesis, pointing to histone acetylation–related chromatin remodeling as a critical determinant. These findings could pave the way to the development of novel therapeutic approaches in regenerative medicine.

Lucia Leone and Salvatore Fusco equally contributed to this work.