Influence of maternal folate depletion on Art3 DNA methylation in the murine adult brain: potential consequences for brain and neurocognitive health

Dieuwertje E. Kok, Rachael Saunders, Andrew Nelson, Darren Smith, Dianne Ford, John C. Mathers, Jill A. McKay*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The developmental origins of health and disease hypothesis suggest early-life environment impacts health outcomes throughout the life course. In particular, epigenetic marks, including DNA methylation, are thought to be key mechanisms through which environmental exposures programme later-life health. Adequate maternal folate status before and during pregnancy is essential in the protection against neural tube defects, but data are emerging that suggest early-life folate exposures may also influence neurocognitive outcomes in childhood and, potentially, thereafter. Since folate is key to the supply of methyl donors for DNA methylation, we hypothesize that DNA methylation may be a mediating mechanism through which maternal folate influences neurocognitive outcomes. Using bisulphite sequencing, we measured DNA methylation of five genes (Art3, Rsp16, Tspo, Wnt16, and Pcdhb6) in the brain tissue of adult offspring of dams who were depleted of folate (n = 5, 0.4 mg folic acid/kg diet) during pregnancy (~19–21 days) and lactation (mean 22 days) compared with controls (n = 6, 2 mg folic acid/kg diet). Genes were selected as methylation of their promoters had previously been found to be altered by maternal folate intake in mice and humans across the life course, and because they have potential associations with neurocognitive outcomes. Maternal folate depletion was significantly associated with Art3 gene hypomethylation in subcortical brain tissue of adult mice at 28 weeks of age (mean decrease 6.2%, P = .03). For the other genes, no statistically significant differences were found between folate depleted and control groups. Given its association with neurocognitive outcomes, we suggest Art3 warrants further study in the context of lifecourse brain health. We have uncovered a potential biomarker that, once validated in accessible biospecimens and human context, may be useful to track the impact of early-life folate exposure on later-life neurocognitive health, and potentially be used to develop and monitor the effects of interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbergeae007
Early online date28 Feb 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Feb 2024

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