Epigenetic methodologies for behavioral scientists
Hormones are essential regulators of many behaviors. Steroids bind either to nuclear or membrane receptors while peptides primarily act via membrane receptors. After a ligand binds, the conformational change in the receptor initiates changes in cell signaling cascades (membrane receptors) or direct alternations in DNA transcription (steroid receptors). Changes in gene transcription that result are responsible for protein production and ultimately behavioral modifications. A significant part of how hormones affect DNA transcription is via epigenetic modifications of DNA and/or the chromatin in which it is entwined. These alterations lead to transcriptional changes that ultimately define the phenotype and function of a given cell. Importantly we now know that environmental stimuli influence epigenetic marks, which in the context of neuroendocrinology can lead to behavioral changes. Importantly tracking epigenetic states and profiling the epigenome within cells requires the use of epigenetic methodologies and subsequent data analysis. Here we describe the techniques of particular importance in the mapping of DNA methylation, histone modifications and occupancy of chromatin bound effector proteins that regulate gene expression. For researchers wanting to move into these levels of analysis we discuss the application of modern sequencing technologies applied in assays such as chromatin immunoprecipitation and the bioinformatics analysis involved in the rich datasets generated.