Gene response elements, genetic polymorphisms and epigenetics influence the human dietary requirement for choline

IUBMB Life. 2007 Jun;59(6):380-7. doi: 10.1080/15216540701468954.


Recent progress in the understanding of the human dietary requirement for choline highlights the importance of genetic variation and epigenetics in human nutrient requirements. Choline is a major dietary source of methyl-groups (one of choline's metabolites, betaine, participates in the methylation of homocysteine to form methionine); also choline is needed for the biosynthesis of cell membranes, bioactive phospholipids and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. A recommended dietary intake for choline in humans was set in 1998, and a portion of the choline requirement can be met via endogenous de novo synthesis of phosphatidylcholine catalyzed by phosphatidylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PEMT) in the liver. Though many foods contain choline, many humans do not get enough in their diets. When deprived of dietary choline, most adult men and postmenopausal women developed signs of organ dysfunction (fatty liver, liver or muscle cell damage, and reduces the capacity to handle a methionine load, resulting in elevated homocysteine). However, only a portion of premenopausal women developed such problems. The difference in requirement occurs because estrogen induces expression of the PEMT gene and allows premenopausal women to make more of their needed choline endogenously. In addition, there is significant variation in the dietary requirement for choline that can be explained by common polymorphisms in genes of choline and folate metabolism. Choline is critical during fetal development, when it alters DNA methylation and thereby influences neural precursor cell proliferation and apoptosis. This results in long term alterations in brain structure and function, specifically memory function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / embryology
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Choline Deficiency
  • Choline* / administration & dosage
  • Choline* / metabolism
  • Diet
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Folic Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Methionine / metabolism
  • Nutritional Requirements*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Response Elements*
  • Vitamin B Complex / metabolism


  • Estrogens
  • Vitamin B Complex
  • Folic Acid
  • Methionine
  • Choline