The epigenetic role of vitamin C in health and disease

Vitamin C is a so called water-soluble vitamin. It is needed for normal growth and development. Water-soluble simply means the vitamin dissolves in water. It also means that the leftover amounts of the vitamin leave the body through the urine. As a result we need an ongoing supply of such vitamins in our diet.

Recent advances have uncovered a previously unknown DNA and histone demethylation function of vitamin C in epigenetic regulation. More precisely Vitamin C was discovered to be a cofactor for the so called methylcytosine dioxygenases that are responsible for DNA demethylation and also as a likely cofactor for some JmjC domain-containing histone demethylases that catalyze histone demethylation. Variation in Vitamin C availability can therefore influence the demethylation of both DNA and histone which may lead to changes  in our phenotypes. The study (unfortunately not publicly accessible except the extract) reviewed how Vitamin C deficiency could potentially be involved in various diseases such as neurodegeneration and cancer through epigenetic dysregulation.

Another study also confirmed the role of Vitamin C in demethylation. It showed that Vitamin C facilitates demethylation of the Foxp3 enhancer. The reseachers concluded that environmental factors, such as nutrients, could bring about changes in immune homeostasis through epigenetic mechanisms.

In 2013 this freely accessible study also made the link between Vitamin C availability and possible consequences for health and diseases by modulation of the epigenetic control of genome activity. The researchers reported a novel function of Vitamin C in the hydroxylation of 5-methylcytosine (5-mC) to 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5-hmC) in DNA catalyzed by Tet (ten-eleven translocation) methylcytosine dioxygenase.

In vitro addition of Vitamin C appeared to enhance the generation of 5-hmC, without any effects on the expression of so called Tet genes.  Blocking Vitamin C entry into cells and knocking down Tet (Tet1, Tet2, and Tet3) expression significantly inhibit the effect of Vitamin C on 5-hmC. These results suggest that Vitamin C enhances 5-hmC generation.

All together this indicates that a daily consumption of Vitamin C may support the body maintaining methylation patterns.



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