Dlk1 dosage regulates hippocampal neurogenesis and cognition
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
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Neurogenesis in the adult brain gives rise to functional neurons, which integrate into neuronal circuits and modulate neural plasticity. Sustained neurogenesis throughout life occurs in the subgranular zone (SGZ) of the dentate gyrus in the hippocampus and is hypothesized to be involved in behavioral/cognitive processes such as memory and in diseases. Genomic imprinting is of critical importance to brain development and normal behavior, and exemplifies how epigenetic states regulate genome function and gene dosage. While most genes are expressed from both alleles, imprinted genes are usually expressed from either the maternally or the paternally inherited chromosome. Here, we show that in contrast to its canonical imprinting in nonneurogenic regions, Delta-like homolog 1 (Dlk1) is expressed biallelically in the SGZ, and both parental alleles are required for stem cell behavior and normal adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus. To evaluate the effects of maternally, paternally, and biallelically inherited mutations within the Dlk1 gene in specific behavioral domains, we subjected Dlk1-mutant mice to a battery of tests that dissociate and evaluate the effects of Dlk1 dosage on spatial learning ability and on anxiety traits. Importantly, reduction in Dlk1 levels triggers specific cognitive abnormalities that affect aspects of discriminating differences in environmental stimuli, emphasizing the importance of selective absence of imprinting in this neurogenic niche.