SCOPE: Early-life exposures are critical in fetal programming and may influence function and health in later life. Adequate maternal folate consumption during pregnancy is essential for healthy fetal development and long-term offspring health. The mechanisms underlying fetal programming are poorly understood, but are likely to involve gene regulation. Epigenetic marks, including DNA methylation, regulate gene expression and are modifiable by folate supply. We observed transcriptional changes in fetal liver in response to maternal folate depletion and hypothesized that these changes are concomitant with altered gene promoter methylation.
METHODS AND RESULTS: Female C57BL/6J mice were fed diets containing 2 or 0.4 mg folic acid/kg for 4 wk before mating and throughout pregnancy. At 17.5-day gestation, genome-wide gene expression and promoter methylation were measured by microarray analysis in male fetal livers. While 989 genes were differentially expressed, 333 promoters had altered methylation (247 hypermethylated, 86 hypomethylated) in response to maternal folate depletion. Only 16 genes had both expression and methylation changes. However, most methylation changes occurred in genomic regions neighboring expression changes.
CONCLUSION: In response to maternal folate depletion, altered expression at the mRNA level was not associated with altered promoter methylation of the same gene in fetal liver.