MTHFR deficiency or reduced intake of folate or choline in pregnant mice results in impaired short-term memory and increased apoptosis in the hippocampus of wild-type offspring

Neuroscience. 2015 Aug 6:300:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2015.04.067. Epub 2015 May 6.


Genetic or nutritional disturbances in one-carbon metabolism, with associated hyperhomocysteinemia, can result in complex disorders including pregnancy complications and neuropsychiatric diseases. In earlier work, we showed that mice with a complete deficiency of methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), a critical enzyme in folate and homocysteine metabolism, had cognitive impairment with disturbances in choline metabolism. Maternal demands for folate and choline are increased during pregnancy and deficiencies of these nutrients result in several negative outcomes including increased resorption and delayed development. The goal of this study was to investigate the behavioral and neurobiological impact of a maternal genetic deficiency in MTHFR or maternal nutritional deficiency of folate or choline during pregnancy on 3-week-old Mthfr(+/+) offspring. Mthfr(+/+) and Mthfr(+/-) females were placed on control diets (CD); and Mthfr(+/+) females were placed on folate-deficient diets (FD) or choline-deficient diets (ChDD) throughout pregnancy and lactation until their offspring were 3weeks of age. Short-term memory was assessed in offspring, and hippocampal tissue was evaluated for morphological changes, apoptosis, proliferation and choline metabolism. Maternal MTHFR deficiency resulted in short-term memory impairment in offspring. These dams had elevated levels of plasma homocysteine when compared with wild-type dams. There were no differences in plasma homocysteine in offspring. Increased apoptosis and proliferation was observed in the hippocampus of offspring from Mthfr(+/-) mothers. In the maternal FD and ChDD study, offspring also showed short-term memory impairment with increased apoptosis in the hippocampus; increased neurogenesis was observed in ChDD offspring. Choline acetyltransferase protein was increased in the offspring hippocampus of both dietary groups and betaine was decreased in the hippocampus of FD offspring. Our results reveal short-term memory deficits in the offspring of dams with MTHFR deficiency or dietary deficiencies of critical methyl donors. We suggest that deficiencies in maternal one-carbon metabolism during pregnancy can contribute to hippocampal dysfunction in offspring through apoptosis or altered choline metabolism.

Keywords: MTHFR deficiency; apoptosis; maternal choline deficiency; maternal folate deficiency; short-term memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Choline Deficiency / physiopathology*
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Folic Acid Deficiency / physiopathology*
  • Hippocampus / growth & development*
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Homocysteine / blood
  • Homocystinuria / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Memory Disorders / etiology
  • Memory Disorders / pathology
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (NADPH2) / deficiency*
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Muscle Spasticity / physiopathology*
  • Neurogenesis / physiology
  • Organ Size
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology*
  • Psychotic Disorders / physiopathology
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology


  • Homocysteine
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (NADPH2)
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase

Supplementary concepts

  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase deficiency