The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 50: 135 - 141 (2006)

Vol 50, Issue 2-3

Special Issue: Developmental Morphodynamics

A hypothesis linking low folate intake to neural tube defects due to failure of post-translation methylations of the cytoskeleton

Open Access | Published: 15 February 2006

Natalie K. Björklund1 and Richard Gordon2,3,4,*

Manitoba Institute of Cell Biology1, Radiology2, Computer Science3 and Electrical & Computer Engineering4, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada


Neural tube defects are serious congenital malformations which can be prevented by periconceptional folic acid supplementation. We hypothesize that folic acid provides the methyl group used for post-translational methylation of arginine and histidine in the highly conserved regulatory domains of the cytoskeleton and that these are required for neural tissue differentiation. Presumptive neural tissue has an unusually high need for folates due to the activity of phosphoethanolamine methyl transferase in producing neural tissue specific lipids at a time when the cytoskeleton is also competing for methylation. According to the cell state splitter hypothesis, the cytoskeleton is required to coordinate the spatial and temporal component of differentiation. When folate supply is low and the cytoskeleton is not methylated properly, the result is a neural tube defect due to failure of this coordination.


neural tube defect, folic acid, homocysteine, primary neural induction, cytoskeleton

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