DNA methylation impacts on learning and memory in aging

Liang Liu, Thomas van Groen, Inga Kadish, Trygve O. Tollefsbol

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Learning and memory are two of the fundamental cognitive functions that confer us the ability to accumulate knowledge from our experiences. Although we use these two mental skills continuously, understanding the molecular basis of learning and memory is very challenging. Methylation modification of DNA is an epigenetic mechanism that plays important roles in regulating gene expression, which is one of the key processes underlying the functions of cells including neurons. Interestingly, a genome-wide decline in DNA methylation occurs in the brain during normal aging, which coincides with a functional decline in learning and memory with age. It has been speculated that DNA methylation in neurons might be involved in memory coding. However, direct evidence supporting the role of DNA methylation in memory formation is still under investigation. This particular function of DNA methylation has not drawn wide attention despite several important studies that have provided supportive evidence for the epigenetic control of memory formation. To facilitate further exploration of the epigenetic basis of memory function, we will review existing studies on DNA methylation that are related to the development and function of the nervous system. We will focus on studies illustrating how DNA methylation regulates neural activities and memory formation via the control of gene expression in neurons, and relate these studies to various age-related neurological disorders that affect cognitive functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-560
Number of pages12
JournalNeurobiology of Aging
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute for grant support as well as the American Institute for Cancer Research, the NCI and the UAB Center for Aging.


  • Aging
  • Cognition
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • Neurodegenerative disease
  • Nutrition


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