Little is known about the conditions contributing to the stability of DNA methylation patterns in male germ cells. Altered folate pathway enzyme activity and methyl donor supply are two clinically significant factors that can affect the methylation of DNA. 5,10-Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) is a key folate pathway enzyme involved in providing methyl groups from dietary folate for DNA methylation. Mice heterozygous for a targeted mutation in the Mthfr gene (Mthfr /−) are a good model for humans homozygous for the MTHFR 677C>T polymorphism, which is found in 10% of the population and is associated with decreased MTHFR activity and infertility. High-dose folic acid is administered as an empirical treatment for male infertility. Here, we examined MTHFR expression in developing male germ cells and evaluated DNA methylation patterns and effects of a range of methionine concentrations in spermatogonia from Mthfr /− as compared to wild-type, Mthfr / mice. MTHFR was expressed in prospermatogonia and spermatogonia at times of DNA methylation acquisition in the male germline; its expression was also found in early spermatocytes and Sertoli cells. DNA methylation patterns were similar at imprinted genes and intergenic sites across chromosome 9 in neonatal Mthfr / and Mthfr /− spermatogonia. Using spermatogonia from Mthfr / and Mthfr /− mice in the spermatogonial stem cell (SSC) culture system, we examined the stability of DNA methylation patterns and determined effects of low or high methionine concentrations. No differences were detected between early and late passages, suggesting that DNA methylation patterns are generally stable in culture. Twenty-fold normal concentrations of methionine resulted in an overall increase in the levels of DNA methylation across chromosome 9, suggesting that DNA methylation can be perturbed in culture. Mthfr /− cells showed a significantly increased variance of DNA methylation at multiple loci across chromosome 9 compared to Mthfr / cells when cultured with 0.25- to 2-fold normal methionine concentrations. Taken together, our results indicate that DNA methylation patterns in undifferentiated spermatogonia, including SSCs, are relatively stable in culture over time under conditions of altered methionine and MTHFR levels.
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Vol. 89 • No. 5