Homocysteine metabolism.Annu Rev Nutr 1999; 19:217-46AR
Homocysteine is a sulfur amino acid whose metabolism stands at the intersection of two pathways: remethylation to methionine, which requires folate and vitamin B12 (or betaine in an alternative reaction); and transsulfuration to cystathionine, which requires pyridoxal-5'-phosphate. The two pathways are coordinated by S-adenosylmethionine, which acts as an allosteric inhibitor of the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase reaction and as an activator of cystathionine beta-synthase. Hyperhomocysteinemia, a condition that recent epidemiological studies have shown to be associated with increased risk of vascular disease, arises from disrupted homocysteine metabolism. Severe hyperhomocysteinemia is due to rare genetic defects resulting in deficiencies in cystathionine beta synthase, methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, or in enzymes involved in methyl-B12 synthesis and homocysteine methylation. Mild hyperhomocysteinemia seen in fasting conditions is due to mild impairment in the methylation pathway (i.e. folate or B12 deficiencies or methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase thermolability). Post-methionine-load hyperhomocysteinemia may be due to heterozygous cystathionine beta-synthase defect or B6 deficiency. Early studies with nonphysiological high homocysteine levels showed a variety of deleterious effects on endothelial or smooth muscle cells in culture. More recent studies with human beings and animals with mild hyperhomocysteinemia provided encouraging results in the attempt to understand the mechanism that underlies this relationship between mild elevations of plasma homocysteine and vascular disease. The studies with animal models indicated the possibility that the effect of elevated homocysteine is multifactorial, affecting both the vascular wall structure and the blood coagulation system.