Impact of folic acid fortification on global DNA methylation and one-carbon biomarkers in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study cohort

Sajin Bae, Cornelia M. Ulrich, Lynn B. Bailey, Olga Malysheva, Elissa C. Brown, David R. Maneval, Marian L. Neuhouser, Ting Yuan David Cheng, Joshua W. Miller, Yingye Zheng, Liren Xiao, Lifang Hou, Xiaoling Song, Katharina Buck, Shirley A.A. Beresford, Marie A. Caudill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


DNA methylation is an epigenetic mechanism that regulates gene expression and can be modified by one-carbon nutrients. The objective of this study was to investigate the impact of folic acid (FA) fortification of the US food supply on leukocyte global DNA methylation and the relationship between DNA methylation, red blood cell (RBC) folate, and other one-carbon biomarkers among postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study. We selected 408 women from the highest and lowest tertiles of RBC folate distribution matching on age and timing of the baseline blood draw, which spanned the pre- (1994-1995), peri- (1996-1997), or post-fortification (1998) periods. Global DNA methylation was assessed by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry and expressed as a percentage of total cytosine. We observed an interaction (P = 0.02) between fortification period and RBC folate in relation to DNA methylation. Women with higher (vs. lower) RBC folate had higher mean DNA methylation (5.12 vs. 4.99%; P = 0.05) in the pre-fortification period, but lower (4.95 vs. 5.16%; P = 0.03) DNA methylation in the post-fortification period. We also observed significant correlations between one-carbon biomarkers and DNA methylation in the pre-fortification period, but not in the peri- or post-fortification period. The correlation between plasma homocysteine and DNA methylation was reversed from an inverse relationship during the pre-fortification period to a positive relationship during the postfortification period. Our data suggest that (1) during FA fortification, higher RBC folate status is associated with a reduction in leukocyte global DNA methylation among postmenopausal women and; (2) the relationship between one-carbon biomarkers and global DNA methylation is dependent on folate availability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)396-403
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 3 2013


  • Choline
  • DNA methylation
  • Folate
  • Folic acid fortification
  • Homocysteine
  • One-carbon biomarkers
  • Postmenopausal women
  • RBC folate
  • Vitamin B12
  • Women's Health Initiative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cancer Research


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