Divergent neuronal DNA methylation patterns across human cortical development reveal critical periods and a unique role of CpH methylation

Image credit: Genome Biology


Background: DNA methylation (DNAm) is a critical regulator of both development and cellular identity and shows unique patterns in neurons. To better characterize maturational changes in DNAm patterns in these cells, we profile the DNAm landscape at single-base resolution across the first two decades of human neocortical development in NeuN+ neurons using whole-genome bisulfite sequencing and compare them to non-neurons (primarily glia) and prenatal homogenate cortex. Results: We show that DNAm changes more dramatically during the first 5 years of postnatal life than during the entire remaining period. We further refine global patterns of increasingly divergent neuronal CpG and CpH methylation (mCpG and mCpH) into six developmental trajectories and find that in contrast to genome-wide patterns, neighboring mCpG and mCpH levels within these regions are highly correlated. We integrate paired RNAseq data and identify putative regulation of hundreds of transcripts and their splicing events exclusively by mCpH levels, independently from mCpG levels, across this period. We finally explore the relationship between DNAm patterns and development of brain-related phenotypes and find enriched heritability for many phenotypes within identified DNAm features. Conclusions: By profiling DNAm changes in NeuN-sorted neurons over the span of human cortical development, we identify novel, dynamic regions of DNAm that would be masked in homogenate DNAm data; expand on the relationship between CpG methylation, CpH methylation, and gene expression; and find enrichment particularly for neuropsychiatric diseases in genomic regions with cell type-specific, developmentally dynamic DNAm patterns. Keywords: DNA methylation, Neurodevelopment, Gene expression, Non-CpG methylation.

Genome Biology