Chloé Bouarab

Post-translational modifications of histone proteins within the hippocampal-amygdalar network undelying the switch from normal to PTSD-like memory

Defended on December 8, 2016.

PhD supervisor: Aline Desmedt  – team Physiopathologie de la plasticité neuronale (Neurocentre Magendie /  Inserm u 862

Memory alterations associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are a fundamental feature of this pathology. PTSD is characterized both by hypermnesia for simple salient trauma-related stimuli and amnesia for peri-traumatic contextual cues. In humans, this disorder is associated with hippocampal hypofunction and amygdalar hyperfunction, which may underlie such paradoxical memory pattern. However, neurobiological bases of PTSD, particularly at the molecular level, remain largely unknown. A behavioral model based on aversive conditioning was developed in mice by our team. This model allows the comparison between a normal, i.e. “contextualized” and adaptive, fear memory, and a PTSD-like pathological fear memory, i.e. “decontextualized” and focused on a salient cue of the trauma. Since specific epigenetic alterations have been involved in the development of contextual fear memory, our aim was the identification of the alterations in post-translational histone modifications underlying the development of traumatic memory instead of normal fear memory. Our results first reveal that normal and PTSD-like fear memory are associated with distinct acetylation/methylation profiles of histone H3 in the hippocampal-amygdalar network. Specifically, we show that, compared to normal fear memory, PTSD-like memory is associated with a switch from H3K9 hyperacetylation (marker of transcriptional activation) to H3K9 hypermethylation (marker of transcriptional repression) in hippocampal CA1, as well as a significant reduction of H3K27 trimethylation, which results in an increased transcription, in the lateral amygdala. Second, we show that the pharmacological manipulation of the acetylation/methylation balance of H3K9 in the hippocampus can prevent or promote the development of PTSD-like memory. Finally, a last series of experiments shows that (i) prenatal stress is a risk factor for the development of PTSD-like memory, (ii) which is associated with specific epigenetic alterations and (iii) that such vulnerability to stress can be transmitted to subsequent generations.

Keywords: Fear memory, Fear conditioning, Post-traumatic stress disorder, Vulnerability, Traumatic memory, Memory consolidation, Epigenetic alterations, Acetylation/methylation of histones, Hippocampus, Amygdala, Mice

Last update: 4 April 2018