Diet, methyl donors and DNA methylation: interactions between dietary folate, methionine and choline

J Nutr. 2002 Aug;132(8 Suppl):2333S-2335S. doi: 10.1093/jn/132.8.2333S.


DNA methylation influences the expression of some genes and depends upon the availability of methyl groups from S-adenosylmethionine (SAM). Dietary methyl groups derive from foods that contain methionine, one-carbon units and choline (or the choline metabolite betaine). Humans ingest approximately 50 mmol of methyl groups per day; 60% of them are derived from choline. Transmethylation metabolic pathways closely interconnect choline, methionine, methyltetrahydrofolate (methyl-THF) and vitamins B-6 and B-12. The pathways intersect at the formation of methionine from homocysteine. Perturbing the metabolism of one of these pathways results in compensatory changes in the others. For example, methionine can be formed from homocysteine using methyl groups from methyl-THF, or using methyl groups from betaine that are derived from choline. Similarly, methyl-THF can be formed from one-carbon units derived from serine or from the methyl groups of choline via dimethylglycine, and choline can be synthesized de novo using methyl groups derived from methionine (via SAM). When animals and humans are deprived of choline, they use more methyl-THF to remethylate homocysteine in the liver and increase dietary folate requirements. Conversely, when they are deprived of folate, they use more methyl groups from choline, increasing the dietary requirement for choline. The availability of transgenic and knockout mice has made possible additional studies that demonstrate the interrelationship of these methyl sources. In summary, as we consider dietary requirements and possible effects on DNA methylation, it is important to realize that methionine, methyl-THF and choline can be fungible sources of methyl groups, and the design of our studies should reflect this.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Choline / administration & dosage
  • Choline / metabolism*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Diet*
  • Folic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Folic Acid / metabolism*
  • Methionine / administration & dosage
  • Methionine / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Rats


  • Folic Acid
  • Methionine
  • Choline