STUDY QUESTION: Do short-term and long-term exposures to low-dose folic acid supplementation alter DNA methylation in sperm? SUMMARY ANSWER: No alterations in sperm DNA methylation patterns were found following the administration of low-dose folic acid supplements of 400 mug/day for 90 days (short-term exposure) or when pre-fortification of food with folic acid and post-fortification sperm samples (long-term exposure) were compared. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Excess dietary folate may be detrimental to health and DNA methylation profiles due to folate's role in one-carbon metabolism and the formation of S-adenosyl methionine, the universal methyl donor. DNA methylation patterns are established in developing male germ cells and have been suggested to be affected by high-dose (5 mg/day) folic acid supplementation. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: This is a control versus treatment study where genome-wide sperm DNA methylation patterns were examined prior to fortification of food (1996-1997) in men with no history of infertility at baseline and following 90-day exposure to placebo (n = 9) or supplement containing 400 mug folic acid/day (n = 10). Additionally, pre-fortification sperm DNA methylation profiles (n = 19) were compared with those of a group of post-fortification (post-2004) men (n = 8) who had been exposed for several years to dietary folic acid fortification. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Blood and seminal plasma folate levels were measured in participants before and following the 90-day treatment with placebo or supplement. Sperm DNA methylation was assessed using the whole-genome and genome-wide techniques, MassArray epityper, restriction landmark genomic scanning, methyl-CpG immunoprecipitation and Illumina HumanMethylation450 Bead Array. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Following treatment, supplemented individuals had significantly higher levels of blood and seminal plasma folates compared to placebo. Initial first-generation genome-wide analyses of sperm DNA methylation showed little evidence of changes when comparing pre- and post-treatment samples. With Illumina HumanMethylation450 BeadChip arrays, no significant changes were observed in individual probes following low-level supplementation; when compared with those of the post-fortification cohort, there were also few differences in methylation despite exposure to years of fortified foods. LARGE SCALE DATA: Illumina HumanMethylation450 BeadChip data from this study have been submitted to the NCBI Gene Expression Omnibus under the accession number GSE89781. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: This study was limited to the number of participants available in each cohort, in particular those who were not exposed to early (pre-1998) fortification of food with folic acid. While genome-wide DNA methylation was assessed with several techniques that targeted genic and CpG-rich regions, intergenic regions were less well interrogated. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Overall, our findings provide evidence that short-term exposure to low-dose folic acid supplements of 400 mug/day, over a period of 3 months, a duration of time that might occur during infertility treatments, has no major impact on the sperm DNA methylome. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTERESTS: This work was supported by a grant to J.M.T. from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR: MOP-89944). The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.
Type of Publication:
Journal article published