Conserved DNA Methylation Signatures in Early Maternal Separation and in Twins Discordant for CO2 Sensitivity.
Respiratory and emotional responses to blood-acidifying inhalation of CO2 are markers of some human anxiety disorders, and can be enhanced by repeatedly cross-fostering (RCF) mouse pups from their biological mother to unrelated lactating females. Yet, these dynamics remain poorly understood. We show RCF-associated intergenerational transmission of CO2 sensitivity in normally-reared mice descending from RCF-exposed females, and describe the accompanying alterations in brain DNA methylation patterns. These epigenetic signatures were compared to DNA methylation profiles of monozygotic twins discordant for emotional reactivity to a CO2 challenge. Altered methylation was consistently associated with repeated elements and transcriptional regulatory regions among RCFexposed animals, their normally-reared offspring, and humans with CO2 hypersensitivity. In both species, regions bearing differential methylation were associated with neurodevelopment, circulation, and response to pH acidification processes, and notably included the ASIC2 gene. Our data show that CO2 hypersensitivity is associated with specific methylation clusters and genes that subserve chemoreception and anxiety. The methylation status of genes implicated in acid-sensing functions can inform etiological and therapeutic research in this field.