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.
The Niemann-Pick type C1 (NPC1) disease is a neurodegenerative lysosomal storage disorder due to mutations in the NPC1 gene, encoding a transmembrane protein related to the Sonic hedgehog (Shh) receptor, Patched, and involved in intracellular trafficking of cholesterol. We have recently found that the proliferation of cerebellar granule neuron precursors is significantly reduced in Npc1-/- mice due to the downregulation of Shh expression. This finding prompted us to analyze the formation of the primary cilium, a non-motile organelle that is specialized for Shh signal transduction and responsible, when defective, for several human genetic disorders. In this study, we show that the expression and subcellular localization of Shh effectors and ciliary proteins are severely disturbed in Npc1-deficient mice. The dysregulation of Shh signaling is associated with a shortening of the primary cilium length and with a reduction of the fraction of ciliated cells in Npc1-deficient mouse brains and the human fibroblasts of NPC1 patients. These defects are prevented by treatment with 2-hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin, a promising therapy currently under clinical investigation. Our findings indicate that defective Shh signaling is responsible for abnormal morphogenesis of the cerebellum of Npc1-deficient mice and show, for the first time, that the formation of the primary cilium is altered in NPC1 disease.