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This article has been peer reviewed. It is the authors' final version prior to publication in Current Opinion in Toxicology, Volume 6, October 2017, Pages 60-70.

The published version is available at Copyright © Elsevier


Over a lifetime, early developmental exposures to neurocognitive risk factors, such as lead (Pb) exposures and prenatal stress (PS), will be followed by multiple varied behavioral experiences. Pb, PS and behavioral experience can each influence brain epigenetic profiles. Our recent studies show a greater level of complexity, however, as all three factors interact within each sex to generate differential adult variation in global post-translational histone modifications (PTHMs), which may result in fundamentally different consequences for life-long learning and behavioral function. We have reported that PTHM profiles differ by sex, brain region and time point of measurement following developmental exposures to Pb±PS, resulting in different profiles for each unique combination of these parameters. Imposing differing behavioral experience following developmental Pb±PS results in additional divergence of PTHM profiles, again in a sex, brain region and time-dependent manner, further increasing complexity. Such findings underscore the need to link highly localized and variable epigenetic changes along single genes to the highly-integrated brain functional connectome that is ultimately responsible for governing behavioral function. Here we advance the idea that increased understanding may be achieved through iterative reductionist and holistic approaches. Implications for experimental design of animal studies of developmental exposures to neurotoxicants include the necessity of a 'no behavioral experience' group, given that epigenetic changes in response to behavioral testing can confound effects of the neurotoxicant itself. They also suggest the potential utility of the inclusion of salient behavioral experiences as a potential effect modifier in epidemiological studies.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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