Folate Deficiency Induces Genomic Uracil Misincorporation and Hypomethylation But Does Not Increase DNA Point Mutations

Heinz G. Linhart, Aron Troen, George W. Bell, Erika Cantu, Wei Hsun Chao, Eva Moran, Eveline Steine, Timothy He, Rudolf Jaenisch*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Background and Aims: Epidemiologic studies have linked nutritional folate deficiency to an increased risk of cancer, but recent trials suggest that folate supplementation does not protect against tumor formation. Our aim was to analyze the genetic and epigenetic consequences of folate deficiency and to investigate whether impairment of the uracil base excision repair pathway can enhance its effects. Methods: Wild-type mice and those deficient in uracil DNA glycosylase (Ung-/-) were placed on a folate-deficient diet for 8 months. We measured tumor incidence in major organs, DNA mutation rates, DNA mutation spectra, local DNA methylation, and global DNA methylation in colon epithelial cells. Results: The experimental diet increased plasma homocysteine (60%, P < .001) and DNA uracil content (24%, P < .05) but not tumor formation. Global DNA methylation was slightly decreased in splenocytes (9.1%) and small intestinal epithelial cells (4.2%), and significantly reduced in colon epithelial cells (7.2%, P < .04). No gene-specific changes in methylation were detected at the mouse B1 element, the H19 DMR, or the Oct4 gene. By λ CII assay and sequencing analysis of 730 mutants, we found that Ung-/- mice had a higher frequency of point mutations and increased C:G to T:A transitions at non-CpG sites. However, folate deficiency had no additional effect on the DNA mutation frequency or spectrum in Ung-/- or wild-type mice. Conclusions: Contradicting current concepts, these findings indicate that the effects of a low-folate diet on DNA methylation and point mutations are insufficient to promote tumor development, even in the presence of Ung deficiency.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)227-235.e3
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors disclose the following: H.G.L. is supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Fritz-Thyssen Stiftung. This work was supported by Philip Morris International and National Institutes of Health grant NIH RO1-CA087869 to R.J., and by the US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (agreement No. 58-1950-7-707). Any opinions, findings, conclusion, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the US Department of Agriculture.


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