Folate, DNA methylation and colo-rectal cancer

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26 Citations (Scopus)


Prospective cohort and case-control studies suggest an association between low folate intake and increased risk of colo-rectal adenoma and cancer. Some, but not all, animal studies indicate that folate supplementation protects against the development of colo-rectal neoplasms, although supraphysiological folate doses have been shown to enhance tumour growth. Folate is a methyl donor for nucleotide synthesis and biological methylation reactions, including DNA methylation. A low dietary folate intake may increase the risk of colo-rectal neoplasia by inducing genomic DNA hypomethylation, which can affect the expression of proto-oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes associated with the development of cancer. Common polymorphisms in genes involved in the methylation pathway, such as methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase and methionine synthase, have been shown to influence risk of colo-rectal neoplasia, with interactions dependent on folate status and/or alcohol intake, which is known to antagonise methyl group availability. There is some evidence to show that DNA from normal-appearing colo-rectal mucosa in individuals with colo-rectal cancer is hypomethylated. In a case-control study DNA methylation in normal-appearing colo-rectal mucosa has been shown to be lower in individuals with colo-rectal cancer (P = 0.08) and colo-rectal adenoma (P = 0.009) than in controls free of colo-rectal abnormalities. Human intervention trials to date suggest that supraphysiological doses of folate can reverse DNA hypomethylation in colo-rectal mucosa of individuals with colo-rectal neoplasia. In a double-blind randomised placebo-controlled study folate supplementation at physiological doses has been shown to increase DNA methylation in leucocytes (P = 0.05) and colonic mucosa (P = 0.09). Further studies are required to confirm these findings in larger populations and to define abnormal ranges of DNA methylation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437 - 445
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Nutrition Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2003


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