The influence of one-carbon metabolism on gene promoter methylation in a population-based breast cancer study

Xinran Xu, Marilie D. Gammon, Elizabeth Jefferson, Yujing Zhang, Yoon Hee Cho, James G. Wetmur, Susan L. Teitelbaum, Patrick T. Bradshaw, Mary Beth Terry, Gail Garbowski, Hanina Hibshoosh, Alfred I. Neugut, Regina M. Santella, Jia Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Abnormal methylation in gene promoters is a hallmark of the cancer genome; however, factors that may influence promoter methylation have not been well elucidated. As the one-carbon metabolism pathway provides the universal methyl donor for methylation reactions, perturbation of this pathway might influence DNA methylation and, ultimately, affect gene functions. Utilizing approximately 800 breast cancer tumor tissues from a large population-based study, we investigated the relationships between dietary and genetic factors involved in the one-carbon metabolism pathway and promoter methylation of a panel of 13 breast cancer-related genes. We found that CCND2, HIN1 and CHD1 were the most "dietary sensitive" genes, as methylation of their promoters was associated with intakes of at least two out of the eight dietary methyl factors examined. On the other hand, some micronutrients (i.e., B2 and B6) were more "epigenetically active" as their intake levels correlated with promoter methylation status in 3 out of the 13 breast cancer genes evaluated. Both positive (hypermethylation) and inverse (hypomethylation) associations with high micronutrient intake were observed. Unlike what we saw for dietary factors, we did not observe any clear patterns between one-carbon genetic polymorphisms and the promoter methylation status of the genes examined. Our results provide preliminary evidence that one-carbon metabolism may have the capacity to influence the breast cancer epigenome. Given that epigenetic alterations are thought to occur early in cancer development and are potentially reversible, dietary modifications may offer promising venues for cancer intervention and prevention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1276-1283
Number of pages8
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • B vitamins
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • Genetic polymorphism
  • One-carbon


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