Developmental Chromatin Restriction of Pro‐Growth Gene Networks Acts as an Epigenetic Barrier to Axon Regeneration in Cortical Neurons
Axon regeneration in the central nervous system is prevented in part by a developmental decline in the intrinsic regenerative ability of maturing neurons. This loss of axon growth ability likely reflects widespread changes in gene expression, but the mechanisms that drive this shift remain unclear. Chromatin accessibility has emerged as a key regulatory mechanism in other cellular contexts, raising the possibility that chromatin structure may contribute to the age‐dependent loss of regenerative potential. Here we establish an integrated bioinformatic pipeline that combines analysis of developmentally dynamic gene networks with transcription factor regulation and genome‐wide maps of chromatin accessibility. When applied to the developing cortex, this pipeline detected overall closure of chromatin in sub‐networks of genes associated with axon growth. We next analyzed mature CNS neurons that were supplied with various pro‐regenerative transcription factors. Unlike prior results with SOX11 and KLF7, here we found that neither JUN nor an activated form of STAT3 promoted substantial corticospinal tract regeneration. Correspondingly, chromatin accessibility in JUN or STAT3 target genes was substantially lower than in predicted targets of SOX11 and KLF7. Finally, we used the pipeline to predict pioneer factors that could potentially relieve chromatin constraints at growth‐associated loci. Overall this integrated analysis substantiates the hypothesis that dynamic chromatin accessibility contributes to the developmental decline in axon growth ability and influences the efficacy of pro‐regenerative interventions in the adult, while also pointing toward selected pioneer factors as high‐priority candidates for future combinatorial experiments.