5,10-Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) is a key enzyme in one-carbon metabolism that ensures the availability of methyl groups for methylation reactions. Two single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the MTHFR gene, 677C>T and 1298A>C, result in a thermolabile enzyme with reduced function. These variants, in both the maternal and/or fetal genes, have been associated with pregnancy complications including miscarriage, neural tube defects (NTDs), and preeclampsia (PE), perhaps due to altered capacity for DNA methylation (DNAm). In this study, we assessed the association between MTHFR 677TT and 1298CC genotypes and risk of NTDs, PE, or normotensive intrauterine growth restriction (nIUGR). Additionally, we assessed whether these high-risk genotypes are associated with altered DNAm in the placenta.
In 303 placentas screened for this study, we observed no significant association between the occurrence of NTDs (N = 55), PE (early-onset: N = 28, late-onset: N = 20), or nIUGR (N = 21) and placental (fetal) MTHFR 677TT or 1298CC genotypes compared to healthy pregnancies (N = 179), though a trend of increased 677TT genotype in PE/IUGR together was observed (OR 2.53, p = 0.048). DNAm was profiled in 10 high-risk 677 (677TT + 1298AA), 10 high-risk 1298 (677CC + 1298CC), and 10 reference (677CC + 1298AA) genotype placentas. Linear modeling identified no significantly differentially methylated sites between high-risk 677 or 1298 and reference placentas at a false discovery rate < 0.05 and Δβ ≥ 0.05 using the Illumina Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChip. Using a differentially methylated region analysis or separating cytosine-guanine dinucleotides (CpGs) by CpG density to reduce multiple comparisons also did not identify differential methylation. Additionally, there was no consistent evidence for altered methylation of repetitive DNA between high-risk and reference placentas.
We conclude that large-scale, genome-wide disruption in DNAm does not occur in placentas with the high-risk MTHFR 677TT or 1298CC genotypes. Furthermore, there was no evidence for an association of the 1298CC genotype and only a tendency to higher 677TT in pregnancy complications of PE/IUGR. This may be due to small sample sizes or folate repletion in our Canadian population attenuating effects of the high-risk MTHFR variants. However, given our results and the conflicting results in the literature, investigations into alternative mechanisms that may explain the link between MTHFR variants and pregnancy complications, or in populations at risk of folate deficiencies, are warranted.