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The Lancet, Volume 318, Issue 8242, Pages 337 - 340, 15 August 1981
doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(81)90650-4Cite or Link Using DOI


JohnM. Scott , DonaldG. Weir


It is suggested that in man the methyl folate trap is a normal physiological response to impending methyl group deficiency resulting from a very low supply of methionine. This decreases cellular S-adenosyl methionine (SAM), which puts at risk important methylation reactions, including those required to maintain myelin. In order to protect these methylation reactions, the cell has evolved two mechanisms to maintain supplies of methionine and SAM as a first priority. (a) Decreased SAM causes the folate co-factors to be directed through the cycle involving 5-methyl-tetrahydrofolate (5-methyl-THF) and methionine synthetase and away from the cycles that produce purines and pyrimidines for DNA synthesis. This enhances the remethylation of homocysteine to methionine and SAM. In addition, by restricting DNA biosynthesis and with it cell division, competition for methionine for protein synthesis is reduced. Thus, whatever methionine is available is conserved for the vital methylation reactions in the nerves, brain, and elsewhere. (b) 5-methyl-THF, the form in which almost all folate is transported in human plasma, must react with intracellular homocysteine before it can be retained by the cell as a polyglutamate. Since homocysteine is derived entirely from methionine, methionine deficiency will cause intracellular folate deficiency, and the rate of mitosis of rapidly dividing cells will be reduced. Although these two processes have evolved as a response to methionine deficiency, they also occur in B12 deficiency, which the cell mistakenly interprets as lack of methionine. The resulting response is inappropriate and gives rise to a potentially lethal anaemia. In these circumstances the methylation reactions are also partly protected by the reduced rate of cell division. This explains why administration of folic acid, which induces cell division and use of methionine in protein synthesis, impairs methylation of myelin and precipitates or exacerbates subacute combined degeneration (SCD). During folate deficiency methionine biosynthesis is also diminished. As in methionine deficiency, the body responds to decreasing availability of SAM by diverting folate away from DNA biosynthesis towards the remethylation of homocysteine to methionine and SAM. The selective use of available folate to conserve methionine, together with the ability of nerve tissue to concentrate folate from the plasma, explains the absence of SCD in folate deficiency.
Departments of Biochemistry and Medicine, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
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