Partitioning of One-Carbon Units in Folate and Methionine Metabolism Is Essential for Neural Tube Closure

Cell Rep. 2017 Nov 14;21(7):1795-1808. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2017.10.072.


Abnormal folate one-carbon metabolism (FOCM) is implicated in neural tube defects (NTDs), severe malformations of the nervous system. MTHFR mediates unidirectional transfer of methyl groups from the folate cycle to the methionine cycle and, therefore, represents a key nexus in partitioning one-carbon units between FOCM functional outputs. Methionine cycle inhibitors prevent neural tube closure in mouse embryos. Similarly, the inability to use glycine as a one-carbon donor to the folate cycle causes NTDs in glycine decarboxylase (Gldc)-deficient embryos. However, analysis of Mthfr-null mouse embryos shows that neither S-adenosylmethionine abundance nor neural tube closure depend on one-carbon units derived from embryonic or maternal folate cycles. Mthfr deletion or methionine treatment prevents NTDs in Gldc-null embryos by retention of one-carbon units within the folate cycle. Overall, neural tube closure depends on the activity of both the methionine and folate cycles, but transfer of one-carbon units between the cycles is not necessary.

Keywords: Gldc; Mthfr; eye; folic acid; glycine cleavage system; neural tube defects; non-ketotic hyperglycinemia; one-carbon metabolism; spina bifida.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Folic Acid / metabolism*
  • Glycine Dehydrogenase (Decarboxylating) / genetics
  • Glycine Dehydrogenase (Decarboxylating) / metabolism
  • Male
  • Methionine / metabolism*
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (NADPH2) / genetics
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (NADPH2) / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Neural Tube / embryology
  • Neural Tube / metabolism*
  • Neural Tube Defects / genetics
  • Neural Tube Defects / metabolism*


  • Folic Acid
  • Methionine
  • Glycine Dehydrogenase (Decarboxylating)
  • MTHFR protein, mouse
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (NADPH2)