What if you could change the way you think about your hearing? Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have found epigenetic regulation of genes in the auditory brainstem which controls sensory perception and awareness. The authors demonstrated for the first time how changes in DNA methylation levels can lead to cognitive and behavioral changes in mice. The findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The discovery made through a collaboration between graduate student Julia Bamman and first author Mayumi Inokuchi began because the scientists discovered a previously unknown epigenetic modification on a DNA region known as chromosome six which is responsible for the continual transfer of signals between neurons.

We were very surprised when we saw the epigenetic changes Bamman said. These changes were not seen before in mice and also were very different from what is seen in humans suffering with schizophrenia.

The epigenetic change involved DNA methylation levels of neighboring genes including microglia a type of immune cells responsible for brain development and function. The researchers compared them to mice deprived of any hearing showing fronto-temporal dysfunction. They also detected a permanent difference in methylation patterns that correlated to the severity of social anxiety.

We think changes in the epigenetics are important because when we take hearing away in mice we saw functional loss of auditory cortex again we saw the irreversible loss of associative learning and we saw the impairment in empathy. Those health markers shared with schizophrenia is an important contributor to individuals behavioral and cognitive deficits.

The epigenetics study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience the worlds most-analyzed neuroscience journal.