Background: Epigenetic processes play a key role in orchestrating transcriptional regulation during the development of the human central nervous system. We previously described dynamic changes in DNA methylation (5mC) occurring during human fetal brain development, but other epigenetic processes operating during this period have not been extensively explored. Of particular interest is DNA hydroxymethylation (5hmC), a modification that is enriched in the human brain and hypothesized to play an important role in neuronal function, learning and memory. In this study, we quantify 5hmC across the genome of 71 human fetal brain samples spanning 23 to 184 days post-conception. Results: We identify widespread changes in 5hmC occurring during human brain development, notable sex-differences in 5hmC in the fetal brain, and interactions between 5mC and 5hmC at specific sites. Finally, we identify loci where 5hmC in the fetal brain is associated with genetic variation. Conclusions: This study represents the first systematic analysis of dynamic changes in 5hmC across neurodevelopment and highlights the potential importance of this modification in the human brain. A searchable database of our fetal brain 5hmC data is available as a resource to the research community at http://epigenetics.essex.ac.uk/fetalbrain2/.
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