Selective demethylation of two CpG sites causes postnatal activation of the Dao gene and consequent removal of D-serine within the mouse cerebellum

Mariella Cuomo, Simona Keller, Daniela Punzo, Tommaso Nuzzo, Ornella Affinito, Lorena Coretti, Massimo Carella, Valeria de Rosa, Ermanno Florio, Francesca Boscia, Vittorio Enrico Avvedimento, Sergio Cocozza, Francesco Errico, Alessandro Usiello, Lorenzo Chiariotti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Programmed epigenetic modifications occurring at early postnatal brain developmental stages may have a long-lasting impact on brain function and complex behavior throughout life. Notably, it is now emerging that several genes that undergo perinatal changes in DNA methylation are associated with neuropsychiatric disorders. In this context, we envisaged that epigenetic modifications during the perinatal period may potentially drive essential changes in the genes regulating brain levels of critical neuromodulators such as D-serine and D-aspartate. Dysfunction of this fine regulation may contribute to the genesis of schizophrenia or other mental disorders, in which altered levels of D-amino acids are found. We recently demonstrated that Ddo, the D-aspartate degradation gene, is actively demethylated to ultimately reduce D-aspartate levels. However, the role of epigenetics as a mechanism driving the regulation of appropriate D-ser levels during brain development has been poorly investigated to date. METHODS: We performed comprehensive ultradeep DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation profiling along with mRNA expression and HPLC-based D-amino acids level analyses of genes controlling the mammalian brain levels of D-serine and D-aspartate. DNA methylation changes occurring in specific cerebellar cell types were also investigated. We conducted high coverage targeted bisulfite sequencing by next-generation sequencing and single-molecule bioinformatic analysis. RESULTS: We report consistent spatiotemporal modifications occurring at the Dao gene during neonatal development in a specific brain region (the cerebellum) and within specific cell types (astrocytes) for the first time. Dynamic demethylation at two specific CpG sites located just downstream of the transcription start site was sufficient to strongly activate the Dao gene, ultimately promoting the complete physiological degradation of cerebellar D-serine a few days after mouse birth. High amount of 5'-hydroxymethylcytosine, exclusively detected at relevant CpG sites, strongly evoked the occurrence of an active demethylation process. CONCLUSION: The present investigation demonstrates that robust and selective demethylation of two CpG sites is associated with postnatal activation of the Dao gene and consequent removal of D-serine within the mouse cerebellum. A single-molecule methylation approach applied at the Dao locus promises to identify different cell-type compositions and functions in different brain areas and developmental stages.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
JournalClinical Epigenetics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 28 2019


  • 5-Hydroxymethylcytosine
  • Brain DNA methylation
  • D-amino acids
  • DNA methylation in psychiatric disorders
  • Neuroepigenetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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