Advanced In vivo Use of CRISPR/Cas9 and Anti-sense DNA Inhibition for Gene Manipulation in the Brain

Walters BJ, Azam AB, Gillon CJ, Josselyn SA, Zovkic IB

Front Genet 2015;6:362

PMID: 26793235


Gene editing tools are essential for uncovering how genes mediate normal brain-behavior relationships and contribute to neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders. Recent progress in gene editing technology now allows neuroscientists unprecedented access to edit the genome efficiently. Although many important tools have been developed, here we focus on approaches that allow for rapid gene editing in the adult nervous system, particularly CRISPR/Cas9 and anti-sense nucleotide-based techniques. CRISPR/Cas9 is a flexible gene editing tool, allowing the genome to be manipulated in diverse ways. For instance, CRISPR/Cas9 has been successfully used to knockout genes, knock-in mutations, overexpress or inhibit gene activity, and provide scaffolding for recruiting specific epigenetic regulators to individual genes and gene regions. Moreover, the CRISPR/Cas9 system may be modified to target multiple genes at one time, affording simultaneous inhibition and overexpression of distinct genetic targets. Although many of the more advanced applications of CRISPR/Cas9 have not been applied to the nervous system, the toolbox is widely accessible, such that it is poised to help advance neuroscience. Anti-sense nucleotide-based technologies can be used to rapidly knockdown genes in the brain. The main advantage of anti-sense based tools is their simplicity, allowing for rapid gene delivery with minimal technical expertise. Here, we describe the main applications and functions of each of these systems with an emphasis on their many potential applications in neuroscience laboratories.

Memory-Associated Dynamic Regulation of the “Stable” Core of the Chromatin Particle

Zovkic IB, Sweatt JD

Neuron 2015 Jul;87(1):1-4

PMID: 26139363


Chromatin is a critical regulator of neural plasticity, but basic principles of chromatin function in neurons are unclear. In this issue of Neuron, Maze et al. (2015) establish histone H3.3 turnover as a novel mechanism contributing to CNS gene regulation, synaptic plasticity, and cognition.

Building up and knocking down: An emerging role for epigenetics and proteasomal degradation in systems consolidation

Walters BJ, Zovkic IB

Neuroscience 2015 Aug;300:39-52

PMID: 25967264


Memory formation is a protracted process in which recently acquired events are consolidated to produce stable and specific associations. Initially, newly acquired information undergoes cellular consolidation in the hippocampus, which transiently supports the storage of recently acquired memories. In contrast, remote, or “old” memories are maintained in the cortex and show almost complete independence from the hippocampus. Memories are transferred from the hippocampus to the cortex through a process termed systems consolidation. Emerging evidence suggests that recurrent activation, or “training” of the cortex by the hippocampus is vital to systems consolidation. This process involves prolonged waves of memory-related gene activity in the hippocampus and cortex long after the learning event has terminated. Indeed, molecular events occurring within hours and days of fear conditioning are essential for stabilizing and eventually transitioning the memory to the cortex. It is increasingly evident that molecular mechanisms that exhibit a capacity for prolonged activation may underlie systems consolidation. Processes that have the capacity to control protein abundance over long time scales, such as epigenetic modifications, are prime candidates for the molecular mechanism of systems consolidation. Indeed, recent work has established two types of epigenetic modifications as integral for systems consolidation. First, localized nucleosomal histone variant exchange and histone modifications are integral for early stages of systems consolidation, whereas DNA methylation appears to be utilized to form stable marks that support memory maintenance. Since systems consolidation also requires discrete and time-sensitive changes in protein abundance, additional mechanisms, such as protein degradation, need also be considered, although their role in systems consolidation has yet to be investigated. Here, we discuss the role of molecular mechanisms in systems consolidation and their implications for understanding how memories persist over time.