UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Folic acid, but not folate, regulates different stages of neurogenesis in the ventral hippocampus of adult female rats Qiu, Wansu; Gobinath, Aarthi R.; Wen, Yanhua; Austin, Jehannine; Galea, Liisa A. M.


Folate is an important regulator of hippocampal neurogenesis, and folic acid is needed prenatally to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in utero. Both high levels of folic acid and low levels of folate can be harmful to health, as low levels of folate have been linked to several diseases while high folic acid supplements can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency. Depressed patients exhibit folate deficiencies, lower levels of hippocampal neurogenesis, elevated levels of homocysteine, and elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which may be inter-related. Here, we are interested in whether different doses of natural folate or synthetic folic acid diets can influence neurogenesis in the hippocampus, levels of plasma homocysteine, and serum corticosterone in adult female rats. Adult female Sprague-Dawley rats underwent dietary interventions for 29 days. Animals were randomly assigned to six different dietary groups: folate deficient + succinylsulfathiazole (SST), low 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF), low 5-MTHF + (SST), high 5-MTHF + SST, low folic acid, and high folic acid. SST was added to a subset of the 5 MTHF diets to eliminate folic acid production in the gut. Before and after dietary treatment, blood samples were collected for corticosterone and homocysteine analysis, and brain tissue was collected for neurogenesis analysis. High folic acid and low 5-MTHF without SST increased the number of immature neurons (doublecortin-expressing cells) within the ventral hippocampus compared to folate deficient controls. Low 5-MTHF without SST significantly increased the number of immature neurons compared to low and high 5-MTHF + SST, indicating that SST interfered with elevations in neurogenesis. Low folic acid and high 5-MTHF+SST reduced plasma homocysteine levels compared to controls, but there was no significant effect of diet on serum corticosterone levels. Low folic acid and high 5-MTHF+SST reduced the number of mature new neurons in the ventral hippocampus (BrdU/NeuN-positive cells) compared to folate deficient controls. Overall folic acid dose-dependently influenced neurogenesis with low levels decreasing but high levels increasing neurogenesis in the ventral hippocampus, suggesting this region, which is important for regulating stress, is particularly sensitive to folic acid in diets. Furthermore, the addition of SST negated the effects of 5-MTHF to increase neurogenesis in the ventral hippocampus.

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