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Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2000 Aug;9(8):849-53.

Genomic DNA hypomethylation, a characteristic of most cancers, is present in peripheral leukocytes of individuals who are homozygous for the C677T polymorphism in the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase gene.

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  • 1Vitamin Metabolism Laboratory, Jean Mayer United States Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts 02111, USA.


DNA methylation is an epigenetic feature of DNA that influences cellular development and function, and aberrations of DNA methylation are a candidate mechanism for the development of cancer. Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) catalyzes the synthesis of 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, the methyl donor for methionine synthesis and the precursor of S-adenosylmethionine. S-adenosylmethionine is the universal methyl donor for methylation reactions, including that of DNA methylation. In the present study, we investigated whether a common C677T mutation in the MTHFR gene, which results in reduced enzyme activity in vitro, affects genomic DNA methylation. We selected 9 subjects homozygous for the wild-type MTHFR and 10 subjects homozygous for the mutation (T/T). Genomic DNA methylation was determined by an established enzymatic assay that measures the capacity of DNA to accept methyl groups in vitro, which is inversely related to endogenous methylation. DNA from subjects with the T/T MTHFR genotype had a significantly higher methyl group acceptance capacity (12,615 +/- 1836 dpm/2 microg of DNA) compared with wild-type MTHFR (7843 +/- 1043 dpm/2 microg of DNA; P < 0.05), indicating DNA hypomethylation in the T/T genotype. Furthermore, DNA methylation was directly and significantly related to RBC folate concentrations in persons with the T/T genotype, but not in those with wild-type MTHFR. These data are consistent with prior observations, which suggest that the T/T genotype is associated with impaired MTHFR activity in vivo and that the cellular impact of this impairment is determined, in part, by folate status. The relationship of genomic DNA hypomethylation in persons with the T/T MTHFR genotype to the development of cancer remains to be defined.

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