Cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying pulsatile GnRH release are not well understood. In the present study, we examined the developmental changes in intracellular calcium dynamics, peptide release, gene expression, and DNA methylation in cultured GnRH neurons derived from the nasal placode of rhesus monkeys. We found that GnRH neurons were functionally immature, exhibiting little fluctuation in intracellular calcium ([Ca(2+)](i)) and sparse pulses of GnRH peptide release in the first 12 d in vitro (div). By 14-18 div, GnRH neurons exhibited periodic [Ca(2+)](i) oscillations, synchronizing at approximately 60-min intervals and GnRH pulses occurred at approximately 60-min intervals. Interestingly, the total GnRH peptide release further increased after 18 div. Measurement of GnRH mRNA and gene CpG methylation status at 0, 14, and 20 div indicated that mRNA levels significantly (P < 0.05) increased between 14 and 20 div, just as maximal decapeptide release was observed. By bisulfite sequencing across a 5' CpG island of the GnRH gene, we further found that methylation at eight of 14 CpG sites significantly (P < 0.05) decreased between 0 and 20 div. These data indicate that epigenetic differentiation occurs during GnRH neuronal development and suggest that increased GnRH gene expression and decreased CpG methylation status are molecular phenotypes of mature GnRH neurons. To our knowledge, this is the first report that developmental DNA demethylation occurs in postmitotic neurons toward a stable neuronal phenotype.
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