High Folate, Perturbed One-Carbon Metabolism and Gestational Diabetes Mellitus

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Folate is a dietary micronutrient essential to one-carbon metabolism. The World Health Organisation recommends folic acid (FA) supplementation pre-conception and in early pregnancy to reduce the risk of fetal neural tube defects (NTDs). Subsequently, many countries (~92) have mandatory FA fortification policies, as well as recommendations for periconceptional FA supplementation. Mandatory fortification initiatives have been largely successful in reducing the incidence of NTDs. However, humans have limited capacity to incorporate FA into the one-carbon metabolic pathway, resulting in the increasingly ubiquitous presence of circulating unmetabolised folic acid (uFA). Excess FA intake has emerged as a risk factor in gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). Several other one-carbon metabolism components (vitamin B12, homocysteine and choline-derived betaine) are also closely entwined with GDM risk, suggesting a role for one-carbon metabolism in GDM pathogenesis. There is growing evidence from in vitro and animal studies suggesting a role for excess FA in dysregulation of one-carbon metabolism. Specifically, high levels of FA reduce methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) activity, dysregulate the balance of thymidylate synthase (TS) and methionine synthase (MTR) activity, and elevate homocysteine. High homocysteine is associated with increased oxidative stress and trophoblast apoptosis and reduced human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) secretion and pancreatic β-cell function. While the relationship between high FA, perturbed one-carbon metabolism and GDM pathogenesis is not yet fully understood, here we summarise the current state of knowledge. Given rising rates of GDM, now estimated to be 14% globally, and widespread FA food fortification, further research is urgently needed to elucidate the mechanisms which underpin GDM pathogenesis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3930
Number of pages24
Issue number19
Early online date22 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2022


  • betaine
  • choline
  • folate
  • gestational diabetes mellitus
  • homocysteine
  • one-carbon metabolism
  • vitamin B12


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