Choline, Other Methyl-Donors and Epigenetics

Nutrients. 2017 Apr 29;9(5):445. doi: 10.3390/nu9050445.


Choline dietary intake varies such that many people do not achieve adequate intakes. Diet intake of choline can modulate methylation because, via betaine homocysteine methyltransferase (BHMT), this nutrient (and its metabolite, betaine) regulate the concentrations of S-adenosylhomocysteine and S-adenosylmethionine. Some of the epigenetic mechanisms that modify gene expression without modifying the genetic code depend on the methylation of DNA or of histones; and diet availability of choline and other methyl-group donors influences both of these methylations. Examples of methyl-donor mediated epigenetic effects include the changes in coat color and body weight in offspring when pregnant agouti mice are fed high choline, high methyl diets; the changes in tail kinking in offspring when pregnant Axin(Fu) mice are fed high choline, high methyl diets; the changes in Cdkn3 methylation and altered brain development that occurs in offspring when pregnant rodents are fed low choline diets. When choline metabolism is disrupted by deleting the gene Bhmt, DNA methylation is affected (especially in a region of chromosome 13), expression of specific genes is suppressed, and liver cancers develop. Better understanding of how nutrients such as choline and methyl-donors influence epigenetic programs has importance for our understanding of not only developmental abnormalities but also for understanding the origins of chronic diseases.

Keywords: DNA methylation; brain development; choline; epigenetics; liver cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Betaine / metabolism
  • Betaine-Homocysteine S-Methyltransferase / metabolism
  • Choline / pharmacology*
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor Proteins / metabolism
  • DNA Methylation
  • Diet*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Liver Neoplasms / genetics
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal
  • Phenotype
  • S-Adenosylhomocysteine / metabolism
  • S-Adenosylmethionine / metabolism


  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor Proteins
  • Histones
  • Betaine
  • S-Adenosylmethionine
  • S-Adenosylhomocysteine
  • BHMT protein, human
  • Betaine-Homocysteine S-Methyltransferase
  • Choline