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Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene polymorphisms resulting in suboptimal oocyte maturation: a discussion of folate status, neural tube defects, schizophrenia, and vasculopathy


Several conditions apparent at birth, e.g., neural tube defects (NTDs) and cardiac anomalies, are associated with polymorphisms in folate-related genes, such as the 677C → T polymorphism of the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene. Similar associations have been established for several constitutional chronic diseases in adulthood, such as schizophrenia, cardiovascular diseases, dementia, and even neoplasias in different organ systems. This spectrum of developmental anomalies and constitutional diseases may be linked to high-risk conceptions related to preovulatory overripeness ovopathy (PrOO). Some developmental anomalies, such as NTDs, are to a large extent prevented by supplementation of folic acid before conception, but supplementation does not seem to prevent cardiovascular disease or cognitive decline. These diverging results can be elucidated by introduction of the PrOO concept, as MTHFR polymorphisms and inherent low folate levels induce both non-optimal maturation of the oocyte and unsuccessful DNA methylation and demethylation, i.e. epigenetic mutations. The PrOO concept is testable and predicts in a random population the following: (1) female carriers of specific genetic MTHFR variants exhibit more ovulatory disturbances and inherent subfecundity traits, (2) descendents from a carrier mother, when compared with those from a wild-type mother, are more frequently conceived in PrOO high-risk conditions and, thus, (3) disadvantaged in life expectancy. If so, some MTHFR polymorphisms represent a novel, genetically determined, PrOO high-risk conception category comparable to those which are environmentally and behaviorly influenced. These high-risk conditions may cause developmental anomalies and defective epigenetic reprogramming in progeny. The interaction between genetic and environmental factors is a plausible mechanism of multifactorial inheritance.


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Wim Lemmens contributed towards the design of the figures.

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Correspondence to Piet Hein Jongbloet.

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The content of this manuscript was subject of the fare-well lecture of PHJ on 12th of June 2007 at the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Health Technology Assessment at the Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. The co-authors AV, MdH, and NR participated in the design of the study and the coordination for the manuscript preparation. They revised it critically for important intellectual content and interpretation of the arguments. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Jongbloet, P.H., Verbeek, A.L., den Heijer, M. et al. Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene polymorphisms resulting in suboptimal oocyte maturation: a discussion of folate status, neural tube defects, schizophrenia, and vasculopathy . J Exp Clin Assist Reprod 5, 5 (2008).

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