Background Folate is an essential nutrient for cell survival and embryogenesis. 10-Formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase (FDH) is the most abundant folate enzyme in folate-mediated one-carbon metabolism. 10-Formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase converts 10-formyltetrahydrofolate to tetrahydrofolate and CO2, the only pathway responsible for formate oxidation in methanol intoxication. 10-Formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase has been considered a potential chemotherapeutic target because it was down-regulated in cancer cells. However, the normal physiological significance of 10-Formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase is not completely understood, hampering the development of therapeutic drug/regimen targeting 10-Formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase. Methods 10-Formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase expression in zebrafish embryos was knocked-down using morpholino oligonucleotides. The morphological and biochemical characteristics of fdh morphants were examined using specific dye staining and whole-mount in-situ hybridization. Embryonic folate contents were determined by HPLC. Results The expression of 10-formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase was consistent in whole embryos during early embryogenesis and became tissue-specific in later stages. Knocking-down fdh impeded morphogenetic movement and caused incorrect cardiac positioning, defective hematopoiesis, notochordmalformation and ultimate death of morphants. Obstructed F-actin polymerization and delayed epiboly were observed in fdh morphants. These abnormalities were reversed either by adding tetrahydrofolate or antioxidant or by co-injecting the mRNA encoding 10-formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase N-terminal domain, supporting the anti-oxidative activity of 10-formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase and the in vivo function of tetrahydrofolate conservation for 10-formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase N-terminal domain. Conclusions 10-Formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase functioned in conserving the unstable tetrahydrofolate and contributing to the intracellular anti-oxidative capacity of embryos, which was crucial in promoting proper cell migration during embryogenesis. General significance These newly reported tetrahydrofolate conserving and anti-oxidative activities of 10-formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase shall be important for unraveling 10-formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase biological significance and the drug development targeting 10-formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase.
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