In this week's Science Signaling, a Vanderbilt University-led team publishes a study demonstrating how epigenetics can influence neuronal excitability, which is known to be dysregulated in many brain disorders. By studying rat cortical neurons in vitro, the researchers found that dynamic DNA methylation helps set the threshold for the responsiveness of the neuronal membrane. By blocking an enzyme that triggers DNA methylation, they were able to make neurons more responsive. They also discovered that DNA methylation could suppress the expression of genes encoding a family of potassium channels that fine-tune neuron excitability. The findings could lead to the development of epigenetic drugs for various neurological conditions, according to the researchers.
Meanwhile, in Science Advances, a researcher from the Institute of Molecular Oncology Foundation in Italy shows how the genome-editing technology CRISPR/Cas9 can be used to screen different species for certain genetic traits, potentially enabling the development of new model systems from "forgotten" species. The approach essentially involves converting messenger RNA from a particular species into the guide RNA used by CRISPR molecules to target specific regions of the genome. This method does not require prior knowledge about target DNA sequences, making it applicable to any species, and may lead to the creation of personalized human guide RNA libraries. GenomeWeb has more on this study, here.