Background: Studies have indicated that altered maternal micronutrients and vitamins influence the development of newborns and altered nutrient exposure throughout the lifetime may have potential health effects and increased susceptibility to chronic diseases. In recent years, folic acid (FA) exposure has significantly increased as a result of mandatory FA fortification and supplementation during pregnancy. Since FA modulates DNA methylation and affects gene expression, we investigated whether the amount of FA ingested during gestation alters gene expression in the newborn cerebral hemisphere, and if the increased exposure to FA during gestation and throughout the lifetime alters behavior in C57BL/6J mice.
Methods: Dams were fed FA either at 0.4 mg or 4 mg/kg diet throughout the pregnancy and the resulting pups were maintained on the diet throughout experimentation. Newborn pups brain cerebral hemispheres were used for microarray analysis. To confirm alteration of several genes, quantitative RT-PCR (qRT-PCR) and Western blot analyses were performed. In addition, various behavior assessments were conducted on neonatal and adult offspring.
Results: Results from microarray analysis suggest that the higher dose of FA supplementation during gestation alters the expression of a number of genes in the newborns’ cerebral hemispheres, including many involved in development. QRTPCR confirmed alterations of nine genes including down-regulation of Cpn2, Htr4, Zfp353, Vgll2 and up-regulation of Xist, Nkx6-3, Leprel1, Nfix, Slc17a7. The alterations in the expression of Slc17a7 and Vgll2 were confirmed at the protein level. Pups exposed to the higher dose of FA exhibited increased ultrasonic vocalizations, greater anxiety-like behavior and hyperactivity. These findings suggest that although FA plays a significant role in mammalian cellular machinery, there may be a loss of benefit from higher amounts of FA. Unregulated high FA supplementation during pregnancy and throughout the life course may have lasting effects, with alterations in brain development resulting in changes in behavior.