Folate deficiency and ionizing radiation cause DNA breaks in primary human lymphocytes: a comparison

FASEB J. 2004 Jan;18(1):209-11. doi: 10.1096/fj.03-0382fje. Epub 2003 Nov 3.


DNA double-strand breaks, the most serious DNA lesion caused by ionizing radiation, are also caused by several vitamin or mineral deficiencies, such as for folate. Primary human lymphocytes were either irradiated or cultured at different levels of folate deficiency to assess cell proliferation, apoptosis, cell cycle, DNA breaks, and changes in gene expression. Both radiation and folate deficiency decreased cell proliferation and induced DNA breaks, apoptosis, and cell cycle arrest. Levels of folate deficiency commonly found resulted in effects similar to those caused by 1 Gy of radiation, a relatively high dose. Though both radiation and folate deficiency caused DNA breaks, they affected the expression of different genes. Radiation activated excision and DNA double-strand break repair genes and repressed mitochondrially encoded genes. Folate deficiency activated base and nucleotide excision repair genes and repressed folate-related genes. No DNA double-strand break repair gene was activated by folate deficiency. These findings suggest that a diet poor in folate may pose a risk of DNA damage comparable to that of a relatively high dose of radiation. Our results also suggest that research on biological effects of low-dose radiation should take into account the nutritional status of the subjects, because folate deficiency could confound the effects of low-dose radiation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Cycle / radiation effects
  • Cell Division / radiation effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Comet Assay
  • DNA Damage*
  • Folic Acid / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes / cytology
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Lymphocytes / radiation effects
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Radiation, Ionizing*


  • Folic Acid