The role of reelin in adult synaptic function and the genetic and epigenetic regulation of the reelin gene

Jonathan M. Levenson, Shenfeng Qiu, Edwin J. Weeber

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


An emerging theme in the field of neuroscience is that processes critical for neurodevelopment have been co-opted by the adult nervous system to subserve synaptic plasticity and cognition. In this review, we highlight a surprising intersection of two developmental processes that together play a critical role in synaptic plasticity, memory formation and cognition. Reelin, a large glycoprotein associated with the extracellular matrix, is crucial for cortical and cerebellar development. Recent data from several groups indicate that reelin plays a unique modulatory role in the induction of synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, and that normal levels of reelin in the adult brain are essential for successful formation of certain forms of long-term memory. Given that both increases and decreases in reelin expression have significant effects on plasticity and memory, regulation of reelin expression is predicted to have significant effects on neural function. Epigenetic regulation of transcription is critical for differentiation of cellular phenotype in metazoans. Dozens of reports in the last few years have demonstrated that epigenetics is involved in modulating gene expression in the adult nervous system and subserves plasticity and memory formation. We review a series of studies that demonstrate that the reelin promoter is subject to differential DNA methylation in the adult nervous system, and that perturbations in reelin promoter methylation correlate with alterations in memory formation and cognition. Thus, two distinct developmental processes, reelin-mediated signaling and epigenetic-based transcriptional regulation, appear to have synergized in the adult nervous system to create a sensitive and robust system for modulation of synaptic plasticity, and ultimately provide a powerful set of tools to probe the molecular basis of cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)422-431
Number of pages10
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Gene Regulatory Mechanisms
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2008


  • Cognition
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetic
  • Expression
  • Genetic regulation
  • Plasticity
  • Reelin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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