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Suggested Citation:"L Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase." Institute of Medicine. 1998. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6015.
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L
Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase

The T677 polymorphism in methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) affects a large percentage of the population. Depending on the group, anywhere from 2 to 15 percent are homozygous and up to 50 percent are heterozygous for this polymorphism, which affects about one-third of alleles (Frosst et al., 1995; Goyette et al., 1994; Jacques et al., 1996). Subjects homozygous for the polymorphism have lower lymphocyte MTHFR levels, higher plasma homocysteine levels, and a higher risk for vascular disease (Bousney et al., 1995; Clarke et al., 1991; Jacques et al., 1996; Kang et al., 1991; Selhub et al., 1993, 1995). Most of the adverse effects associated with this polymorphism affect the homozygote and heterozygotes behave in most regards similarly to the wild type. Because of this, most studies of this polymorphism have compared the effect of homozygosity with a control group composed of C677 subjects plus heterozygotes.

The T677 polymorphism in MTHFR results in a less stable enzyme but does not affect the affinity of substrates for the enzyme (R.M. Matthews, personal communication). Consequently, the metabolic effects of this polymorphism are lower amounts of enzyme activity rather than abnormal enzyme activity. In subjects with poor folate status, the homozygote would be expected to display lower MTHFR activity. However, for subjects with good folate status, the higher folate levels would stabilize the protein and reduce the difference in available enzyme compared with control subjects. It is expected that metabolic and adverse effects of this polymorphism would primarily affect people with poorer folate status. The level of folate

Suggested Citation:"L Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase." Institute of Medicine. 1998. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6015.
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that is sufficient to stabilize the mutant enzyme to the extent that homozygotes would behave identically to controls is not known.

Theoretically, a decreased activity of MTHFR would decrease the rate of formation of methyltetrahydrofolate and consequently homocysteine remethylation. However, this might also be expected to redirect some of the one-carbon flux into other pathways of folate metabolism such as nucleotide metabolism, which could have a positive effect on nucleotide synthesis. Decreased MTHFR activity may explain a recent epidemiological study that reported that homozygotes of poor folate status had a reduced cancer risk compared to control subjects with poor folate status (Ma et al., 1997).

Folate deficiency per se would be expected to adversely affect all metabolic cycles of one-carbon metabolism. However, a metabolic defect in one enzyme may adversely affect one metabolic cycle but may promote another metabolic cycle. Metabolic defects in a single enzyme also greatly complicate the interpretation of normal measures of status. Methyltetrahydrofolate is a very poor substrate for folylpolyglutamate synthetase and has to be demethylated via the methionine synthase reaction before it can be converted to polyglutamates and retained by tissues (Cichowicz and Shane, 1987; Shane, 1989). If folate status is such that MTHFR levels decrease, the rate of formation of methyltetrahydrofolate should be reduced; this would promote folate accumulation by tissues and consequently decrease plasma folate concentrations. A lower plasma folate concentration in such a case would not represent poorer folate status, merely more effective folate accumulation by tissues. Some studies have shown lower plasma folate and increased erythrocyte folate in subjects homozygous for the T677 mutation (van der Put et al., 1996). Folate accumulation by fibroblasts from patients with severe defects in MTHFR is normal or increased above normal (Foo et al., 1982). Other studies, however, have reported low plasma and erythrocyte folate in homozygous subjects (Molloy et al., 1997), which is more difficult to explain in terms of our current understanding of folate metabolism. It is possible that the turnover and catabolism of folate is more rapid with nonmethylfolate. Although this could explain this last observation, there is only very limited data to support such a mechanism.

Currently, there is quite good evidence suggesting that the polymorphism has an adverse effect on homocysteine concentrations in subjects with relatively poor folate status (Selhub et al., 1993). However, there is no substantial evidence suggesting that this effect is not corrected by consuming the Recommended Dietary Allowance for folate that is presented in this report.

Suggested Citation:"L Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase." Institute of Medicine. 1998. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6015.
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REFERENCES

Bousney CJ, Beresford SAA, Omenn GS, Motulsky AG. 1995. A quantitative assessment of plasma homocysteine as a risk factor for vascular disease. J Am Med Assoc 274:1049–1057.


Cichowicz DJ, Shane B. 1987. Mammalian folylpoly-γ-glutamate synthetase. 2. Substrate specificity and kinetic properties. Biochem 26:513–521.

Clarke R, Daly L, Robinson K, Naughten E, Cahalane S, Bowler B, Graham I. 1991. Hyperhomocysteinemia: An independent risk factor for vascular disease. N Engl J Med 324:1149–1155.


Foo SK, McSloy RM, Rousseau C, Shane B. 1982. Folate derivatives in human cells: Studies on normal and 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase-deficient fibroblasts. J Nutr 112:1600–1608.

Frosst P, Blom HJ, Milos R, Goyette P, Sheppard CA, Matthews RG, Boers GJ, den Heijer M, Kluijtmans LA, van den Heuvel LP, Rozen R. 1995. A candidate genetic risk factor for vascular disease: A common mutation in methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. Nat Genet 10:111–113.


Goyette P, Sumner JS, Milos R, Duncan AM, Rosenblatt DS, Matthews RG, Rozen R. 1994. Human methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase: Isolation of cDNA mapping and mutation identification. Nat Genet 7:551.


Jacques PF, Bostom AG, Williams RR, Ellison RC, Eckfeldt JH, Rosenberg IH, Selhub J, Rozen R. 1996. Relation between folate status, a common mutation in methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, and plasma homocysteine concentrations. Circulation 93:7–9.


Kang S-S, Wong PWK, Susmano A, Sora J, Norusis M, Ruggie N. 1991. Thermolabile methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase: An inherited risk factor for coronary artery disease. Am J Hum Genet 48:536–545.


Ma J, Stampfer MJ, Giovannucci E, Artigas C, Hunter DJ, Fuchs C, Willett WC, Selhub J, Hennekens CH, Rozen R. 1997. Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase polymorphism, dietary interactions, and risk of colorectal cancer. Cancer Res 57:1098–1102.

Molloy AM, Daly S, Mills JL, Kirke PN, Whitehead AS, Ramsbottom D, Conley MR, Weir DG, Scott JM. 1997. Thermolabile variant of 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase associated with low red-cell folates: Implications for folate intake recommendations. Lancet 349:1591–1593.


Selhub J, Jacques PF, Wilson PWF, Rush D, Rosenberg IH. 1993. Vitamin status and intake as primary determinants of homocysteinemia in an elderly population. J Am Med Assoc 270:2693–2698.

Selhub J, Jacques PF, Bostom AG, D’Agostino RB, Wilson PW, Belanger AJ, O’Leary DH, Wolf PA, Schaefer EJ, Rosenberg IH. 1995. Association between plasma homocysteine concentrations and extracranial carotid-artery stenosis. N Engl J Med 332:286–291.

Shane B. 1989. Folylpolyglutamate synthesis and role in the regulation of one carbon metabolism. Vitam Horm 45:263–335.


van der Put NM, van den Heuvel LP, Steegers-Theunissen RP, Trijbels FJ, Eskes TK, Mariman EC, den Heyer M, Blom HJ. 1996. Decreased methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase activity due to the 677C→T mutation in families with spina bifida offspring. J Molec Med 74:691–694.

Suggested Citation:"L Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase." Institute of Medicine. 1998. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6015.
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Page 520
Suggested Citation:"L Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase." Institute of Medicine. 1998. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6015.
×
Page 521
Suggested Citation:"L Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase." Institute of Medicine. 1998. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6015.
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Page 522
Next: M Evidence from Animal Studies on the Etiology of Neural Tube Defects »
Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline Get This Book
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Since 1941, Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) has been recognized as the most authoritative source of information on nutrient levels for healthy people. Since publication of the 10th edition in 1989, there has been rising awareness of the impact of nutrition on chronic disease. In light of new research findings and a growing public focus on nutrition and health, the expert panel responsible for formulation RDAs reviewed and expanded its approach--the result: Dietary Reference Intakes.

This new series of references greatly extends the scope and application of previous nutrient guidelines. For each nutrient the book presents what is known about how the nutrient functions in the human body, what the best method is to determine its requirements, which factors (caffeine or exercise, for example) may affect how it works, and how the nutrient may be related to chronic disease.

This volume of the series presents information about thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, and choline.

Based on analysis of nutrient metabolism in humans and data on intakes in the U.S. population, the committee recommends intakes for each age group--from the first days of life through childhood, sexual maturity, midlife, and the later years. Recommendations for pregnancy and lactation also are made, and the book identifies when intake of a nutrient may be too much. Representing a new paradigm for the nutrition community, Dietary Reference Intakes encompasses:

  • Estimated Average Requirements (EARs). These are used to set Recommended Dietary Allowances.
  • Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs). Intakes that meet the RDA are likely to meet the nutrient requirement of nearly all individuals in a life-stage and gender group.
  • Adequate Intakes (AIs). These are used instead of RDAs when an EAR cannot be calculated. Both the RDA and the AI may be used as goals for individual intake.
  • Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (ULs). Intakes below the UL are unlikely to pose risks of adverse health effects in healthy people.

This new framework encompasses both essential nutrients and other food components thought to pay a role in health, such as dietary fiber. It incorporates functional endpoints and examines the relationship between dose and response in determining adequacy and the hazards of excess intake for each nutrient.

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