Neuronal Brain Region-Specific DNA Methylation and Chromatin Accessibility Are Associated with Neuropsychiatric Disease Heritability


Epigenetic modifications confer stable transcriptional patterns in the brain, and both normal and abnormal brain function involve specialized brain regions, yet little is known about brain region-specific epigenetic differences. Here, we compared prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate gyrus, hippocampus and nucleus accumbens from 6 individuals, performing whole genome bisulfite sequencing for DNA methylation. In addition, we have performed ATAC-seq for chromatin accessibility, and RNA-seq for gene expression in the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex from 6 additional individuals. We found substantial neuron- and brain region-specific differences in both DNA methylation and chromatin accessibility which were largely non-overlapping, and were greatest between nucleus accumbens and the other regions. In contrast, glial methylation and chromatin were relatively homogeneous across brain regions, although neuron/glia ratios varied greatly, demonstrating the necessity for cellular fractionation. Gene expression was also largely the same across glia from different brain regions and substantially different for neurons. Expression was correlated with methylation and accessibility across promoters and known enhancers. Several classes of transcription factor binding sites were enriched at regions of differential methylation and accessibility, including many that respond to synaptic activity. Finally, both regions of differential methylation and those of differential accessibility showed a surprising >10-fold enrichment of explained heritability associated with addictive behavior, as well as schizophrenia- and neuroticism-associated regions, suggesting that common psychiatric illness is mediated through brain region-specific epigenetic marks.