Folate metabolite profiling of different cell types and embryos suggests variation in folate one-carbon metabolism, including developmental changes in human embryonic brain

Mol Cell Biochem. 2013 Jun;378(1-2):229-36. doi: 10.1007/s11010-013-1613-y. Epub 2013 Mar 13.


Folates act as co-factors for transfer of one-carbon units for nucleotide production, methylation and other biosynthetic reactions. Comprehensive profiling of multiple folates can be achieved using liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry, enabling determination of their relative abundance that may provide an indication of metabolic differences between cell types. For example, cell lines exposed to methotrexate showed a dose-dependent elevation of dihydrofolate, consistent with inhibition of dihydrofolate reductase. We analysed the folate profile of E. coli sub-types as well as cell lines and embryonic tissue from both human and mouse. The folate profile of bacteria differed markedly from those of all the mammalian samples, most notably in the greater abundance of formyl tetrahydrofolate. The overall profiles of mouse and human fibroblasts and mid-gestation mouse embryos were broadly similar, with specific differences. The major folate species in these cell types was 5-methyl tetrahydrofolate, in contrast to lymphoblastoid cell lines in which the predominant form was tetrahydrofolate. Analysis of embryonic human brain revealed a shift in folate profile with increasing developmental stage, with a decline in relative abundance of dihydrofolate and increase in 5-methyl tetrahydrofolate. These cell type-specific and developmental changes in folate profile may indicate differential requirements for the various outputs of folate metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / embryology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Folic Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Methotrexate / chemistry
  • Methotrexate / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred CBA
  • Reference Standards
  • Species Specificity
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / standards
  • Tetrahydrofolates / chemistry
  • Tetrahydrofolates / metabolism*


  • Tetrahydrofolates
  • Folic Acid
  • Methotrexate