Impaired folate 1-carbon metabolism causes formate-preventable hydrocephalus in glycine decarboxylase-deficient mice

J Clin Invest. 2020 Mar 2;130(3):1446-1452. doi: 10.1172/JCI132360.


Ventriculomegaly and hydrocephalus are associated with loss of function of glycine decarboxylase (Gldc) in mice and in humans suffering from non-ketotic hyperglycinemia (NKH), a neurometabolic disorder characterized by accumulation of excess glycine. Here, we showed that ventriculomegaly in Gldc-deficient mice is preceded by stenosis of the Sylvian aqueduct and malformation or absence of the subcommissural organ and pineal gland. Gldc functions in the glycine cleavage system, a mitochondrial component of folate metabolism, whose malfunction results in accumulation of glycine and diminished supply of glycine-derived 1-carbon units to the folate cycle. We showed that inadequate 1-carbon supply, as opposed to excess glycine, is the cause of hydrocephalus associated with loss of function of the glycine cleavage system. Maternal supplementation with formate prevented both ventriculomegaly, as assessed at prenatal stages, and postnatal development of hydrocephalus in Gldc-deficient mice. Furthermore, ventriculomegaly was rescued by genetic ablation of 5,10-methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase (Mthfr), which results in retention of 1-carbon groups in the folate cycle at the expense of transfer to the methylation cycle. In conclusion, a defect in folate metabolism can lead to prenatal aqueduct stenosis and resultant hydrocephalus. These defects are preventable by maternal supplementation with formate, which acts as a 1-carbon donor.

Keywords: Development; Mouse models; Neurodevelopment; Neurological disorders; Neuroscience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Folic Acid / genetics
  • Folic Acid / metabolism*
  • Formates / metabolism*
  • Glycine Dehydrogenase (Decarboxylating) / deficiency*
  • Glycine Dehydrogenase (Decarboxylating) / metabolism
  • Hydrocephalus / genetics
  • Hydrocephalus / metabolism*
  • Hydrocephalus / pathology
  • Hydrocephalus / prevention & control
  • Methylation
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (NADPH2) / genetics
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (NADPH2) / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout


  • Formates
  • formic acid
  • Folic Acid
  • Glycine Dehydrogenase (Decarboxylating)
  • MTHFR protein, mouse
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (NADPH2)