Increasing evidence supports that mom’s parental duties start way before birth. Make sure you do this…don’t do that, but don’t stress over it. It’s great to see researchers starting to get a hold of the “why” behind all the rules.
Not getting enough folate from mom puts fetuses at risk for neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Exactly why an embryo’s neural tube fails to form properly under such conditions is unknown, but because folate is a methyl donor, researchers suspect that aberrant DNA methylation plays a role. Now, a team in China has linked tissue-specific methylation patterns with low maternal folate in human fetuses with neural tube defects.
When the researchers examined DNA methylation patterns in aborted second-trimester human fetuses with or without neural tube defects, they made some interesting discoveries:
- Brain genomic DNA from fetuses with neural tube defects was significantly hypomethylated relative to controls
- In contrast, skin and heart DNA was hypermethylated in fetuses with neural tube defects
- 5mC content in brain DNA correlated with maternal folate levels in fetuses with or without neural tube defects
The researchers think that the altered methylation patterns could influence the expression of genes involved in neural tube formation. These results tie in nicely with another recent paper showing that insufficient folate causes altered gene-specific methylation in infants with low birth weights, strengthening the case that aberrant DNA methylation patterns are behind some folate-related pregnancy problems.
Get all the details at J. Nutr. Biochem., February 2011.