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J Nutr. 2006 Jun;136(6 Suppl):1706S-1710S.

Assessing the effects of high methionine intake on DNA methylation.

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  • Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine, U.S. Department of Agriculture Children's Nutrition Research Center, Houston, TX 77030, USA. waterland@bcm.edu


Methylation of DNA occurs at cytosines within CpG (cytosine-guanine) dinucleotides and is 1 of several epigenetic mechanisms that serve to establish and maintain tissue-specific patterns of gene expression. The methyl groups transferred in mammalian DNA methylation reactions are ultimately derived from methionine. High dietary methionine intake might therefore be expected to increase DNA methylation. Because of the circular nature of the methionine cycle, however, methionine excess may actually impair DNA methylation by inhibiting remethylation of homocysteine. Although little is known regarding the effect of dietary methionine supplementation on mammalian DNA methylation, the available data suggest that methionine supplementation can induce hypermethylation of DNA in specific genomic regions. Because locus-specific DNA hypomethylation is implicated in the etiology of various cancers and developmental syndromes, clinical trials of "promethylation" dietary supplements are already under way. However, aberrant hypermethylation of DNA could be deleterious. It is therefore important to determine whether dietary supplementation with methionine can effectively support therapeutic maintenance of DNA methylation without causing excessive and potentially adverse locus-specific hypermethylation. In the viable yellow agouti (Avy) mouse, maternal diet affects the coat color distribution of offspring by perturbing the establishment of methylation at the Avy metastable epiallele. Hence, the Avy mouse can be employed as a sensitive epigenetic biosensor to assess the effects of dietary methionine supplementation on locus-specific DNA methylation. Recent developments in epigenomic approaches that survey locus-specific DNA methylation on a genome-wide scale offer broader opportunities to assess the effects of high methionine intake on mammalian epigenomes.

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