Changes in the expression of genes involved in DNA methylation and histone modification in response to daily food availability times in zebra finches: epigenetic implications [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Ila Mishra, Aakansha Sharma, Abhilash Prabhat, Twinkle Batra, Indu Malik, and Vinod Kumar

We hypothesised that daily food availability times serve as an ‘epigenetic’ factor and affect reproductive physiology in continuously reproducing species. This we tested by measuring mRNA expression of genes coding for enzymes involved in DNA methylation–demethylation (dnmt, tet) and histone modification (hat1, hdac) in the hypothalamus, liver and gonads of male and female zebra finches that were paired for a year under 12 h light:12 h dark conditions with food availability restricted to 4 h in the morning (morning FA group) or evening (evening FA group), with controls provided with food ad libitum. The overall hypothalamic and hepatic expression patterns of hat1 and hdac were similar but those of dnmt and tet were different between males and females. Irrespective of the timing of food availability, both hat1 and hdac mRNA levels were increased in the hypothalamus, but not in the liver, in which hat1 mRNA levels were increased in the morning FA group. While hypothalamic tet levels were higher in evening FA males, hepatic tet levels were higher in morning FA birds (tet1, only males). Gonadal expression levels similarly varied and showed sex differences. Histone-modifying genes did not show food availability effects, except for elevated testicular hdac3 levels. Similarly, testicular dnmt3b and tet2 mRNA levels were increased and decreased in morning and evening FA groups, respectively, whereas ovarian dnmt1 and tet2 levels were reduced in morning FA and tet1 levels were reduced in evening FA groups. The present results suggest that an enforced daily feeding schedule in the long term could serve as a conditioning environment that shapes overall hypothalamic regulation, and liver and gonadal function at the epigenetic level in diurnal vertebrates.

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