Bilirubin neurotoxicity has been studied for decades and has been shown to affect various mechanisms via significant modulation of gene expression. This suggests that vital regulatory mechanisms of gene expression, such as epigenetic mechanisms, could play a role in bilirubin neurotoxicity. Histone acetylation has recently received attention in the CNS due to its role in gene modulation for numerous biological processes, such as synaptic plasticity, learning, memory, development and differentiation. Aberrant epigenetic regulation of gene expression in psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders has also been described. In this work, we followed the levels of histone 3 lysine 14 acetylation (H3K14Ac) in the cerebellum (Cll) of the developing (2, 9, 17 days after the birth) and adult Gunn rat, the natural model for neonatal hyperbilirubinemia and kernicterus. We observed an age-specific alteration of the H3K14Ac in the hyperbilirubinemic animals. The GeneOntology analysis of the H3K14Ac linked chromatin revealed that almost 45% of H3K14Ac ChiP-Seq TSS-promoter genes were involved in CNS development including maturation and differentiation, morphogenesis, dendritogenesis, and migration. These data suggest that the hallmark Cll hypoplasia in the Gunn rat occurs also via epigenetically controlled mechanisms during the maturation of this brain structure, unraveling a novel aspect of the bilirubin-induced neurotoxicity.
Severe hyperbilirubinemia causes neurological damage both in humans and rodents. The hyperbilirubinemic Gunn rat shows a marked cerebellar hypoplasia. More recently bilirubin ability to arrest the cell cycle progression in vascular smooth muscle, tumour cells, and, more importantly, cultured neurons has been demonstrated. However, the involvement of cell cycle perturbation in the development of cerebellar hypoplasia was never investigated before. We explored the effect of sustained spontaneous hyperbilirubinemia on cell cycle progression and apoptosis in whole cerebella dissected from 9 day old Gunn rat by Real Time PCR, Western blot and FACS analysis. The cerebellum of the hyperbilirubinemic Gunn rats exhibits an increased cell cycle arrest in the late G0/G1 phase (p < 0.001), characterized by a decrease in the protein expression of cyclin D1 (15%, p < 0.05), cyclin A/A1 (20 and 30%, p < 0.05 and 0.01, respectively) and cyclin dependent kinases2 (25%, p < 0.001). This was associated with a marked increase in the 18 kDa fragment of cyclin E (67%, p < 0.001) which amplifies the apoptotic pathway. In line with this was the increase of the cleaved form of Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (54%, p < 0.01) and active Caspase3 (two fold, p < 0.01). These data indicate that the characteristic cerebellar alteration in this developing brain structure of the hyperbilirubinemic Gunn rat may be partly due to cell cycle perturbation and apoptosis related to the high bilirubin concentration in cerebellar tissue mainly affecting granular cells. These two phenomena might be intimately connected.