Rewriting the Script: The Story of Vitamin C and the Epigenome

  • Tyler C. Huff
  • Gaofeng WangEmail author
Reference work entry


Vitamin C is a vital micronutrient in the maintenance of numerous cellular functions and the development of mammalian systems. Vitamin C predominantly exists physiologically as the ascorbate anion, an antioxidant classically linked to the prevention of scurvy. Current research has shown that ascorbate plays an additional role critical in DNA demethylation by acting as a cofactor for the ten-eleven translocation (TET) family of methylcytosine dioxygenase enzymes. TET enzymes hydroxylate 5-methylcytosine (5mC) to 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), an epigenetic marker whose further processing results in cleavage of the methylated cytosine and subsequent repair via the base excision repair pathway, resulting in completion of active DNA demethylation. Recent work has also speculated ascorbate’s role in mediating histone demethylation dynamics via Jumonji C domain (JmjC) demethylase enzymes belonging to the same enzyme family as TET dioxygenases. Although these roles in demethylation are of principal importance, the need for ascorbate initially evolved in early photosynthetic eukaryotes who required a reducing agent to protect themselves from photodamage generated by the chloroplast, a role that ultimately affected the evolutionary paths of insects and herbivorous animals. Altogether, the wide-reaching functions of ascorbate play a critical role in the maintenance of mammalian demethylation dynamics and organismal development.


Vitamin C Ascorbate DNA demethylation TET 5hmC JmjC GULO Histone demethylation Eusociality Iron 

List of Abbreviations












DNA methyltransferases


Double-stranded beta helix


L-galactonolactone dehydrogenase


Gulonolactone (L-) oxidase




Thymine-DNA glycosylase


Ten-eleven translocation



The work on the epigenomic regulation by vitamin C in the Wang lab is supported by grants (R01NS089525, R21CA191668) from the National Institutes of Health.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Department of Human Genetics, John P. Hussman Institute for Human GenomicsUniversity of Miami Miller School of MedicineMiamiUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human Genetics, Dr. Nasser Ibrahim Al-Rashid Orbital Vision Research Center, Bascom Palmer Eye InstituteUniversity of Miami Miller School of MedicineMiamiUSA

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