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1.  Homocysteine and Coronary Heart Disease: Meta-analysis of MTHFR Case-Control Studies, Avoiding Publication Bias 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(2):e1001177.
Robert Clarke and colleagues conduct a meta-analysis of unpublished datasets to examine the causal relationship between elevation of homocysteine levels in the blood and the risk of coronary heart disease. Their data suggest that an increase in homocysteine levels is not likely to result in an increase in risk of coronary heart disease.
Moderately elevated blood levels of homocysteine are weakly correlated with coronary heart disease (CHD) risk, but causality remains uncertain. When folate levels are low, the TT genotype of the common C677T polymorphism (rs1801133) of the methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase gene (MTHFR) appreciably increases homocysteine levels, so “Mendelian randomization” studies using this variant as an instrumental variable could help test causality.
Methods and Findings
Nineteen unpublished datasets were obtained (total 48,175 CHD cases and 67,961 controls) in which multiple genetic variants had been measured, including MTHFR C677T. These datasets did not include measurements of blood homocysteine, but homocysteine levels would be expected to be about 20% higher with TT than with CC genotype in the populations studied. In meta-analyses of these unpublished datasets, the case-control CHD odds ratio (OR) and 95% CI comparing TT versus CC homozygotes was 1.02 (0.98–1.07; p = 0.28) overall, and 1.01 (0.95–1.07) in unsupplemented low-folate populations. By contrast, in a slightly updated meta-analysis of the 86 published studies (28,617 CHD cases and 41,857 controls), the OR was 1.15 (1.09–1.21), significantly discrepant (p = 0.001) with the OR in the unpublished datasets. Within the meta-analysis of published studies, the OR was 1.12 (1.04–1.21) in the 14 larger studies (those with variance of log OR<0.05; total 13,119 cases) and 1.18 (1.09–1.28) in the 72 smaller ones (total 15,498 cases).
The CI for the overall result from large unpublished datasets shows lifelong moderate homocysteine elevation has little or no effect on CHD. The discrepant overall result from previously published studies reflects publication bias or methodological problems.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death among adults in developed countries. With age, fatty deposits (atherosclerotic plaques) coat the walls of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients. The resultant restriction of the heart's blood supply causes shortness of breath, angina (chest pains that are usually relieved by rest), and sometimes fatal heart attacks. Many established risk factors for CHD, including smoking, physical inactivity, being overweight, and eating a fat-rich diet, can be modified by lifestyle changes. Another possible modifiable risk factor for CHD is a high blood level of the amino acid homocysteine. Methylene tetrahydofolate reductase, which is encoded by the MTHFR gene, uses folate to break down and remove homocysteine so fortification of cereals with folate can reduce population homocysteine blood levels. Pooled results from prospective observational studies that have looked for an association between homocysteine levels and later development of CHD suggest that the reduction in homocysteine levels that can be achieved by folate supplementation is associated with an 11% lower CHD risk.
Why Was This Study Done?
Prospective observational studies cannot prove that high homocysteine levels cause CHD because of confounding, the potential presence of other unknown shared characteristics that really cause CHD. However, an approach called “Mendelian randomization” can test whether high blood homocysteine causes CHD. A common genetic variant of the MTHFR gene—the C677T polymorphism—reduces MTHFR efficiency so TT homozygotes (individuals in whom both copies of the MTHFR gene have the nucleotide thymine at position 677; the human genome contains two copies of most genes) have 25% higher blood homocysteine levels than CC homozygotes. In meta-analyses (statistical pooling of the results of several studies) of published Mendelian randomized studies, TT homozygotes have a higher CHD risk than CC homozygotes. Because gene variants are inherited randomly, they are not subject to confounding, so this result suggests that high blood homocysteine causes CHD. But what if only Mendelian randomization studies that found an association have been published? Such publication bias would affect this aggregate result. Here, the researchers investigate the association of the MTHFR C677T polymorphism with CHD in unpublished datasets that have analyzed this polymorphism incidentally during other genetic studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained 19 unpublished datasets that contained data on the MTHFR C677T polymorphism in thousands of people with and without CHD. Meta-analysis of these datasets indicates that the excess CHD risk in TT homozygotes compared to CC homozygotes was 2% (much lower than predicted from the prospective observational studies), a nonsignificant difference (that is, it could have occurred by chance). When the probable folate status of the study populations (based on when national folic acid fortification legislation came into effect) was taken into account, there was still no evidence that TT homozygotes had an excess CHD risk. By contrast, in an updated meta-analysis of 86 published studies of the association of the polymorphism with CHD, the excess CHD risk in TT homozygotes compared to CC homozygotes was 15%. Finally, in a meta-analysis of randomized trials on the use of vitamin B supplements for homocysteine reduction, folate supplementation had no significant effect on the 5-year incidence of CHD.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These analyses of unpublished datasets are consistent with lifelong moderate elevation of homocysteine levels having no significant effect on CHD risk. In other words, these findings indicate that circulating homocysteine levels within the normal range are not causally related to CHD risk. The meta-analysis of the randomized trials of folate supplementation also supports this conclusion. So why is there a discrepancy between these findings and those of meta-analyses of published Mendelian randomization studies? The discrepancy is too large to be dismissed as a chance finding, suggest the researchers, but could be the result of publication bias—some studies might have been prioritized for publication because of the positive nature of their results whereas the unpublished datasets used in this study would not have been affected by any failure to publish null results. Overall, these findings reveal a serious example of publication bias and argue against the use of folate supplements as a means of reducing CHD risk.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The American Heart Association provides information about CHD and tips on keeping the heart healthy; it also provides information on homocysteine, folic acid, and CHD, general information on supplements and heart health, and personal stories about CHD
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about CHD, including personal stories about CHD
Information is available from the British Heart Foundation on heart disease and keeping the heart healthy
The US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute also provides information on CHD (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides links to many other sources of information on CHD (in English and Spanish)
Wikipedia has a page on Mendelian randomization (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
PMCID: PMC3283559  PMID: 22363213
2.  Associations between single nucleotide polymorphisms in folate uptake and metabolizing genes with blood folate, homocysteine, and DNA uracil concentrations1234 
Folate is an essential nutrient that supports nucleotide synthesis and biological methylation reactions. Diminished folate status results in chromosome breakage and is associated with several diseases, including colorectal cancer. Folate status is also inversely related to plasma homocysteine concentrations—a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
We sought to gain further understanding of the genetic determinants of plasma folate and homocysteine concentrations. Because folate is required for the synthesis of thymidine from uracil, the latter accumulating and being misincorporated into DNA during folate depletion, the DNA uracil content was also measured.
Thirteen single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in genes involved in folate uptake and metabolism, including folate hydrolase (FOLH1), folate polyglutamate synthase (FPGS), γ-glutamyl hydrolase (GGH), methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), methionine synthase (MTR), proton-coupled folate transporter (PCFT), and reduced folate carrier (RFC1), were studied in a cohort of 991 individuals.
The MTHFR 677TT genotype was associated with increased plasma homocysteine and decreased plasma folate. MTHFR 1298A>C and RFC1 intron 5A>G polymorphisms were associated with significantly altered plasma homocysteine concentrations. The FOLH1 1561C>T SNP was associated with altered plasma folate concentrations. The MTHFR 677TT genotype was associated with a ≈34% lower DNA uracil content (P = 0.045), whereas the G allele of the GGH – 124T>G SNP was associated with a stepwise increase in DNA uracil content (P = 0.022).
Because the accumulation of uracil in DNA induces chromosome breaks, mutagenic lesions, we suggest that, as for MTHFR C677T, the GGH – 124 T>G SNP may modulate the risk of carcinogenesis and therefore warrants further attention.
PMCID: PMC2728423  PMID: 18842806
3.  Genome-wide significant predictors of metabolites in the one-carbon metabolism pathway 
Human Molecular Genetics  2009;18(23):4677-4687.
Low plasma B-vitamin levels and elevated homocysteine have been associated with cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative disorders. Common variants in FUT2 on chromosome 19q13 were associated with plasma vitamin B12 levels among women in a genome-wide association study in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) NCI-Cancer Genetic Markers of Susceptibility (CGEMS) project. To identify additional loci associated with plasma vitamin B12, homocysteine, folate and vitamin B6 (active form pyridoxal 5′-phosphate, PLP), we conducted a meta-analysis of three GWA scans (total n = 4763, consisting of 1658 women in NHS-CGEMS, 1647 women in Framingham-SNP-Health Association Resource (SHARe) and 1458 men in SHARe). On chromosome 19q13, we confirm the association of plasma vitamin B12 with rs602662 and rs492602 (P-value = 1.83 × 10−15 and 1.30 × 10−14, respectively) in strong linkage disequilibrium (LD) with rs601338 (P = 6.92 × 10−15), the FUT2 W143X nonsense mutation. We identified additional genome-wide significant loci for plasma vitamin B12 on chromosomes 6p21 (P = 4.05 × 10−08), 10p12 (P-value=2.87 × 10−9) and 11q11 (P-value=2.25 × 10−10) in genes with biological relevance. We confirm the association of the well-studied functional candidate SNP 5,10-methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) Ala222Val (dbSNP ID: rs1801133; P-value=1.27 × 10−8), on chromosome 1p36 with plasma homocysteine and identify an additional genome-wide significant locus on chromosome 9q22 (P-value=2.06 × 10−8) associated with plasma homocysteine. We also identified genome-wide associations with variants on chromosome 1p36 with plasma PLP (P-value=1.40 × 10−15). Genome-wide significant loci were not identified for plasma folate. These data reveal new biological candidates and confirm prior candidate genes for plasma homocysteine, plasma vitamin B12 and plasma PLP.
PMCID: PMC2773275  PMID: 19744961
4.  Plasma homocysteine and genetic variants of homocysteine metabolism enzymes in patients from central Greece with primary open-angle glaucoma and pseudoexfoliation glaucoma 
The purpose of this study was to investigate plasma homocysteine levels and polymorphisms in genes encoding enzymes in the metabolic pathway of homocysteine in association with primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) and pseudoexfoliation glaucoma (PXFG).
A total of 156 glaucoma patients (76 with POAG and 80 with PXFG) and 135 controls matched for age and sex were enrolled in this study. Plasma homocysteine levels were measured using a commercially available enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay kit. DNA was extracted from peripheral blood leukocytes and real-time polymerase chain reaction was performed for genotyping of the samples. Patients were genotyped using predesigned TaqMan® single nucleotide polymorphism genotyping assays for two exon variations (rs1801131, rs1801133) in the 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene and one intron variation (rs8006686) in the methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase (MTHFD1) gene.
Homocysteine levels were slightly higher in the patient group (POAG and PXFG) compared with controls, but the difference did not reach statistical significance. The minor alleles of the MTHFR single nucleotide polymorphisms showed a protective effect for POAG and showed an increased risk for PXFG, but none of these associations reached statistical significance (P>0.05). The minor allele of MTHFD1 rs8006686 showed a trend for increased risk of both POAG and PXFG (P>0.05). No statistically significant interaction was seen between the genetic variants and homocysteine levels (P>0.05).
Our results show that neither the examined single nucleotide polymorphisms from genes involved in the pathway of homocysteine metabolism nor the measured homocysteine levels were associated with POAG or PXFG in our study cohort.
PMCID: PMC4166342  PMID: 25246760
homocysteine; glaucoma; polymorphisms
5.  The Folate Pathway and Nonsyndromic Cleft Lip and Palate 
Nonsyndromic cleft lip with or without cleft palate (NSCLP) is a common birth malformation caused by genetic, environmental and gene-environment interactions. Periconceptional supplementation with folic acid, a key component in DNA synthesis and cell division, has reduced the birth prevalence of neural tube defects (NTDs) and may similarly reduce the birth prevalence of other complex birth defects including NSCLP. Past studies investigating the role of two common methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) SNP polymorphisms, C677T (rs1801133) and A1298C (rs1801131), in NSCLP have produced conflicting results. Most studies of folate pathway genes have been limited in scope, as few genes/SNPs have been interrogated. In this study, we asked whether variations in a more comprehensive group of folate pathway genes were associated with NSCLP and, if so, were there detectable interactions between these genes and environmental exposures. In addition, we evaluated the data for a sex effect. Fourteen folate metabolism related genes were interrogated using eighty-nine SNPs in multiplex and simplex non-Hispanic White (NHW) (317) and Hispanic (128) NSCLP families. Evidence for a risk association between NSCLP and SNPs in nitrous oxide 3 (NOS3) and thymidylate synthetase (TYMS) was detected in the NHW group, whereas associations with methionine synthase (MTR), betaine-homocysteine methyltransferase (BHMT2), MTHFS and SLC19A1 were detected in the Hispanic group. Evidence for over-transmission of haplotypes and gene interactions in the methionine arm was detected. These results suggest that perturbations of the genes in the folate pathway may contribute to NSCLP. There was evidence for an interaction between several SNPs and maternal smoking, and for one SNP with sex of the offspring. These results provide support for other studies that suggest that high maternal homocysteine levels may contribute to NSCLP and should be further investigated.
PMCID: PMC4098909  PMID: 21254359
Nonsyndromic cleft lip and palate; NSCLP; folate metabolism; association; genetics; homocysteine; methionine
6.  Homocysteine and cardiovascular disease: evidence on causality from a meta-analysis 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2002;325(7374):1202.
To assess whether the association of serum homocysteine concentration with ischaemic heart disease, deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, and stroke is causal and, if so, to quantify the effect of homocysteine reduction in preventing them.
Meta-analyses of the above three diseases using (a) 72 studies in which the prevalence of a mutation in the MTHFR gene (which increases homocysteine) was determined in cases (n=16 849) and controls, and (b) 20 prospective studies (3820 participants) of serum homocysteine and disease risk.
Main outcome measures
Odds ratios of the three diseases for a 5 μmol/l increase in serum homocysteine concentration.
There were significant associations between homocysteine and the three diseases. The odds ratios for a 5 μmol/l increase in serum homocysteine were, for ischaemic heart disease, 1.42 (95% confidence interval 1.11 to 1.84) in the genetic studies and 1.32 (1.19 to 1.45) in the prospective studies; for deep vein thrombosis with or without pulmonary embolism, 1.60 (1.15 to 2.22) in the genetic studies (there were no prospective studies); and, for stroke, 1.65 (0.66 to 4.13) in the genetic studies and 1.59 (1.29 to 1.96) in the prospective studies.
The genetic studies and the prospective studies do not share the same potential sources of error, but both yield similar highly significant results—strong evidence that the association between homocysteine and cardiovascular disease is causal. On this basis, lowering homocysteine concentrations by 3 μmol/l from current levels (achievable by increasing folic acid intake) would reduce the risk of ischaemic heart disease by 16% (11% to 20%), deep vein thrombosis by 25% (8% to 38%), and stroke by 24% (15% to 33%).
What is already known on this topicThere is an association between serum homocysteine concentration and cardiovascular disease, but it is not known whether the association is causalA common single gene mutation that reduces the activity of an enzyme involved in folate metabolism (MTHFR) is associated with a moderate (20%) increase in serum homocysteineWhat this study addsA meta-analysis of MTHFR studies shows a significantly higher risk of both ischaemic heart disease and deep vein thrombosis (with or without pulmonary embolism) in people with the MTHFR mutationA meta-analysis of prospective studies shows a significant association between homocysteine concentration and ischaemic heart disease similar in size to that expected from the results of the MTHFR studies and a significant association with strokeThe MTHFR studies and the prospective studies do not share the same potential sources of error but both yield similar results—strong evidence that the association between homocysteine and cardiovascular disease is causalOn this basis a decrease in serum homocysteine of 3 μmol/l (achievable by daily intake of about 0.8 mg folic acid) should reduce the risk of ischaemic heart disease by 16%, deep vein thrombosis by 25%, and stroke by 24%
PMCID: PMC135491  PMID: 12446535
7.  Neural Tube Defects and Folate Pathway Genes: Family-Based Association Tests of Gene–Gene and Gene–Environment Interactions 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2006;114(10):1547-1552.
Folate metabolism pathway genes have been examined for association with neural tube defects (NTDs) because folic acid supplementation reduces the risk of this debilitating birth defect. Most studies addressed these genes individually, often with different populations providing conflicting results.
Our study evaluates several folate pathway genes for association with human NTDs, incorporating an environmental cofactor: maternal folate supplementation.
In 304 Caucasian American NTD families with myelomeningocele or anencephaly, we examined 28 polymorphisms in 11 genes: folate receptor 1, folate receptor 2, solute carrier family 19 member 1, transcobalamin II, methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase 1, serine hydroxymethyl-transferase 1, 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), 5-methyltetrahydrofolate-homo-cysteine methyltransferase, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate-homocysteine methyltransferase reductase, betaine-homocysteine methyltransferase (BHMT), and cystathionine-beta-synthase.
Only single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in BHMT were significantly associated in the overall data set; this significance was strongest when mothers took folate-containing nutritional supplements before conception. The BHMT SNP rs3733890 was more significant when the data were stratified by preferential transmission of the MTHFR rs1801133 thermolabile T allele from parent to offspring. Other SNPs in folate pathway genes were marginally significant in some analyses when stratified by maternal supplementation, MTHFR, or BHMT allele transmission.
BHMT rs3733890 is significantly associated in our data set, whereas MTHFR rs1801133 is not a major risk factor. Further investigation of folate and methionine cycle genes will require extensive SNP genotyping and/or resequencing to identify novel variants, inclusion of environmental factors, and investigation of gene–gene interactions in large data sets.
PMCID: PMC1626421  PMID: 17035141
folate; folic acid supplementation; genetic association; neural tube defects
8.  Genetic variation in folylpolyglutamate synthase and gamma-glutamyl hydrolase and plasma homocysteine levels in the Singapore Chinese Health Study 
The enzymes folylpolyglutamate synthase (FPGS) and gamma-glutamyl hydrolase (GGH) are essential for determining intracellular folate availability for one-carbon metabolism (OCM) pathways. FPGS adds glutamyl groups to the folate molecule, thereby converting folate into the preferred substrate for several enzymes in OCM pathways. GGH removes glutamyl groups, allowing folate metabolites to leave the cell. The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the FPGS and GGH genes influence measured plasma homocysteine levels. Study participants were a sub-cohort (n = 482) from the Singapore Chinese Health Study. SNPs were selected using HapMap tagSNPs and SNPs previously reported in the scientific literature. Multiple linear regression was used to evaluate the association between individual SNPs and plasma homocysteine levels. Two FPGS (rs10106, rs1098774) and 9 GGH (rs719235, rs1031552, rs1800909, rs3758149, rs3780126, rs3824333, rs4617146, rs11545076, rs11545078) SNPs were included in the final analysis. Neither of the FPGS SNPs, but three GGH SNPs were associated with plasma homocysteine levels: rs11545076 (p=0.001), rs1800909 (p=0.02), and rs3758149 (p = 0.006). Only one (rs11545076) remained statistically significant after adjusting for multiple comparisons. This study suggests that GGH SNPs, rs11545076, rs1800909, and rs3758149, may have functional relevance and result in alterations in plasma homocysteine levels. Since this is one of the first studies to assess FPGS and GGH genetic variants in relation to plasma homocysteine, further research is needed to confirm these findings and characterize the functional effects of these variants.
PMCID: PMC3253895  PMID: 22018726
FPGS; GGH; Folate; Homocysteine; SNP
9.  Polymorphisms of methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase are not a risk factor for Kawasaki disease in the Korean population 
Korean Journal of Pediatrics  2011;54(8):335-339.
Hyperhomocysteinemia is known as a risk factor for atherosclerosis. Preclinical arteriosclerosis is noted and premature atherosclerosis is known to be accelerated in Kawasaki disease (KD) patients. Genetic polymorphisms in the 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene result in elevated plasma homocysteine concentrations and are known to be associated with the development of coronary artery disease. Our hypothesis is that single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of the MTHFR gene are related to the development of KD and coronary artery lesions (CALs).
For this study, we selected 3 candidate single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) (rs2274976, rs1801131, and rs1801133) of MTHFR. These SNPs are located on chromosome 1p36.3. We included 101 KD patients and 306 healthy adults as controls in this study. CALs were seen in 38 patients. Genotypes of the selected SNPs were determined by direct sequencing and analyzed with SNPAlyze.
The genetic distribution and allelic frequency of the 3 MTHFR SNPs (rs2274976, rs1801131, and rs1801133) were not significantly different in patients with KD compared to the control group (P=0.71, 0.17, and 0.96, respectively). There was no difference in the genetic distribution of the MTHFR SNPs between the normal control group and the CAL group (P=0.43, 0.39, 0.52 respectively).
The genetic distribution of the MTHFR SNPs (rs2274976, rs1801131, and rs1801133) was not different in the KD group compared to the control group. In addition, the genetic distribution of these SNPs was not different in the CAL group compared to the control group in the Korean population.
PMCID: PMC3212703  PMID: 22087200
Hyperhomocysteinemia; Coronary artery lesion; Kawasaki disease; Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase; Polymorphism
10.  Novel Associations of CPS1, MUT, NOX4 and DPEP1 with Plasma Homocysteine in a Healthy Population: A Genome Wide Evaluation of 13,974 Participants in the Women’s Genome Health Study 
Homocysteine is a sulfur amino acid whose plasma concentration has been associated with the risk of cardiovascular diseases, neural tube defects and loss of cognitive function in epidemiological studies. While genetic variants of MTHFR and CBS are known to influence homocysteine concentration, common genetic determinants of homocysteine remain largely unknown.
Methods and Results
To address this issue comprehensively, we performed a genome wide association analysis, testing 336,469 SNPs in 13,974 healthy Caucasian women. While we confirm association with MTHFR (1p36.22; rs1801133; p=8.1 × 10−35) and CBS (21q22.3; rs6586282; p=3.2 × 10−10), we found novel associations with CPS1 (2q34; rs7422339; p=1.9 × 10−11), MUT (6p12.3; rs4267943; p=2.0 × 10−9), NOX4 (11q14.3; rs11018628; p=9.6 × 10−12) and DPEP1 (16q24.3; rs1126464; p=1.2 × 10−12). The associations at MTHFR, DPEP1 and CBS were replicated in an independent sample from the PROCARDIS study, whereas the association at CPS1 was only replicated among the women.
These associations offer new insights into the biochemical pathways involved in homocysteine metabolism and provide opportunities to better delineate the role of homocysteine in health and disease.
PMCID: PMC2745176  PMID: 20031578
Genetics; Metabolism; Amino Acids
11.  Common folate gene variant, MTHFR C677T, is associated with brain structure in two independent cohorts of people with mild cognitive impairment☆ 
NeuroImage : Clinical  2012;1(1):179-187.
A commonly carried C677T polymorphism in a folate-related gene, MTHFR, is associated with higher plasma homocysteine, a well-known mediator of neuronal damage and brain atrophy.
As homocysteine promotes brain atrophy, we set out to discover whether people carrying the C677T MTHFR polymorphism which increases homocysteine, might also show systematic differences in brain structure.
Using tensor-based morphometry, we tested this association in 359 elderly Caucasian subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) (mean age: 75 ± 7.1 years) scanned with brain MRI and genotyped as part of Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. We carried out a replication study in an independent, non-overlapping sample of 51 elderly Caucasian subjects with MCI (mean age: 76 ± 5.5 years), scanned with brain MRI and genotyped for MTHFR, as part of the Cardiovascular Health Study. At each voxel in the brain, we tested to see where regional volume differences were associated with carrying one or more MTHFR ‘T’ alleles.
In ADNI subjects, carriers of the MTHFR risk allele had detectable brain volume deficits, in the white matter, of up to 2–8% per risk T allele locally at baseline and showed accelerated brain atrophy of 0.5–1.5% per T allele at 1 year follow-up, after adjusting for age and sex. We replicated these brain volume deficits of up to 5–12% per MTHFR T allele in the independent cohort of CHS subjects.
As expected, the associations weakened after controlling for homocysteine levels, which the risk gene affects. The MTHFR risk variant may thus promote brain atrophy by elevating homocysteine levels.
This study aims to investigate the spatially detailed effects of this MTHFR polymorphism on brain structure in 3D, pointing to a causal pathway that may promote homocysteine-mediated brain atrophy in elderly people with MCI.
► Commonly carried MTHFR gene polymorphism affects plasma homocysteine levels. ► It also accelerates brain tissue loss in the elderly with mild cognitive impairment. ► We have mapped MTHFR brain structure associations in 3D in two independent cohorts. ► We suggest a causal pathway for homocysteine-mediated brain atrophy in the elderly.
PMCID: PMC3757723  PMID: 24179750
12.  Physical activity is inversely associated with total homocysteine levels, independent of C677T MTHFR genotype and plasma B vitamins 
Age  2007;29(4):219-227.
The homocysteine level is considered to be a product of genetic and lifestyle interactions, mainly mutated methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) and the intake of folate, vitamin B12 and pyridoxine, and their blood levels. Physical activity has been associated with lower homocysteine levels in some population studies, especially among elderly subjects. To further elucidate the observed association between homocysteine and physical activity, while accounting for the effect of the MTHFR C677T genotype, and of plasma levels of folate and B12 vitamins, a cross-sectional study of 620 males and females, aged 70.5 ± 6.8 years, was carried out. Information on lifestyle habits was collected and laboratory examinations of 12-h fasting total plasma homocysteine, folate, and vitamin B12, as well as DNA analysis for MTHFR C677T variant, were performed. Median total homocysteine values were 11.4 μmol/l for males and 9.4 for females; p < 0.001. Smoking and ethnic origin were not found to be associated with homocysteine levels. Physically active subjects had significantly lower total homocysteine levels when adjusted for sex (p = 0.01). Significant inverse correlations were found between body mass index, plasma folate, B12 and homocysteine levels. Homocysteine levels of the CC, CT and TT genotypes were 9.7, 10.6 and 10.2 μmol/l, respectively (p = 0.002, controlling for sex). In a multiple linear regression model, a sedentary lifestyle increased homocysteine levels by 7% as compared to an active one (p = 0.03) controlling for sex, age, body mass index, folate, vitamin B12, and C677T genotype, all of which were also found to be significantly associated with homocysteine levels. Any level of physical activity was found to be independently associated with lower homocysteine levels in an elderly population, controlling for MTHFR genotype, plasma B-vitamins, age, sex, smoking and BMI. This study emphasizes the importance of maintaining a physically active lifestyle in the elderly.
PMCID: PMC2267028  PMID: 19424840
B vitamins; Elderly; Homocysteine; Lifestyle; MTHFR genotyping; Physical activity
13.  MTHFR rs1801133 C>T polymorphism is associated with an increased risk of tetralogy of Fallot 
Biomedical Reports  2014;2(2):172-176.
Abnormal folate metabolism and common variants of folate-metabolizing enzymes have been described as possible risk factors for congenital heart disease (CHD). Two important folate-metabolizing enzymes involved in the folate/homocysteine metabolic pathway are 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) and methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase 1 (MTHFD1). MTHFR and MTHFD1 polymorphisms may be associated with CHD susceptibility. To evaluate the impact of MTHFR and MTHFD1 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) on CHD susceptibility, we genotyped functional MTHFR SNPs rs1801133 C>T, rs1801131 A>C and rs2274976 G>A, and MTHFD SNPs rs2236225 C>T, rs1950902 G>A and rs1076991 A>G in a hospital-based case-control study of 173 tetralogy of Fallot (TOF) cases and 207 non-CHD controls. When MTHFR rs1801133 CC homozygote genotype was used as the reference group, the TT genotype was associated with a significantly increased risk for TOF [TT vs. CC: odds ratio (OR)=1.67; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.01–2.75; P=0.046]. In the recessive model, when MTHFR rs1801133 CC/CT genotype was used as the reference group, the TT homozygote genotype was associated with a significantly increased risk for TOF (OR=1.81, 95% CI: 1.15–2.84; P=0.010). In conclusion, our findings suggest that MTHFR rs1801133 C>T polymorphism may play a role in susceptibility for TOF. Large-scale studies with a more rigorous study design including diverse ethnic populations are required to confirm these findings.
PMCID: PMC3917760  PMID: 24649091
5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase; congenital heart disease; polymorphisms; tetralogy of Fallot; molecular epidemiology
14.  Tagging SNPs in the MTHFR Gene and Risk of Ischemic Stroke in a Chinese Population 
Stroke is currently the leading cause of functional impairments worldwide. Folate supplementation is inversely associated with risk of ischemic stroke. Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) is an important enzyme involved in folate metabolism. The aim of this study is to examine whether genetic variants in MTHFR gene are associated with the risk of ischemic stroke and fasting total serum homocysteine (tHcy) level. We genotyped nine tag SNPs in the MTHFR gene in a case-control study, including 543 ischemic stroke cases and 655 healthy controls in China. We found that subjects with the rs1801133 TT genotype and rs1801131 CC genotype had significant increased risks of ischemic stroke (adjusted odds ratio (OR) = 1.82, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.27–2.61, p = 0.004; adjusted OR = 1.99, 95% CI: 1.12–3.56, p = 0.01) compared with subjects with the major alleles. Haplotype analysis also found that carriers of the MTHFR CTTCGA haplotype (rs12121543-rs13306553-rs9651118-rs1801133-rs2274976-rs1801131) had a significant reduced risk of ischemic stroke (adjusted OR = 0.53, 95% CI: 0.35–0.82) compared with those with the CTTTGA haplotype. Besides, the MTHFR rs1801133 and rs9651118 were significantly associated with serum levels of tHcy in healthy controls (p < 0.0001 and p = 0.02). These findings suggest that variants in the MTHFR gene may influence the risk of ischemic stroke and serum tHcy.
PMCID: PMC4057767  PMID: 24853127
ischemic stroke; MTHFR; polymorphism; homocysteine
15.  Folate and Vitamin B12 Related Genes and Risk for Omphalocele 
Human Genetics  2011;131(5):739-746.
Both taking folic acid-containing vitamins around conception and consuming food fortified with folic acid have been reported to reduce omphalocele rates. Genetic factors are etiologically important in omphalocele as well; our pilot study showed a relationship with the folate metabolic enzyme gene methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR). We studied 169 non-aneuploid omphalocele cases and 761 unaffected, matched controls from all New York State births occurring between 1998 and 2005 to look for associations with single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) known to be important in folate, vitamin B12, or choline metabolism. In the total study population, variants in the transcobalamin receptor gene (TCblR), rs2232775 (Q8R), and the MTHFR gene, rs1801131 (1298A>C), were significantly associated with omphalocele. In African-Americans significant associations were found with SNPs in genes for the vitamin B12 transporter (TCN2) and the vitamin B12 receptor (TCblR). A SNP in the homocysteine-related gene, betaine-homocysteine S-methyltransferase (BHMT), rs3733890 (R239Q), was significantly associated with omphalocele in both African-Americans and Asians. Only the TCblR association in the total population remained statistically significant if Bonferroni correction was applied. The finding that transcobalamin receptor (TCblR) and transporter (TCN2) SNPs and a BHMT SNP were associated with omphalocele suggests that disruption of methylation reactions, in which folate, vitamin B12, and homocysteine play critical parts, may be a risk factor for omphalocele. Our data, if confirmed, suggest that supplements containing both folic acid and vitamin B12 may be beneficial in preventing omphaloceles.
PMCID: PMC3374579  PMID: 22116453
omphalocele; folate; vitamin B12; homocysteine; transcobalamin; transcobalamin receptor
16.  Evaluation of C677T polymorphism of the methylenetetra hydrofolate reductase gene and its association with levels of serum homocysteine, folate, and vitamin B12 as maternal risk factors for Down syndrome 
Indian Journal of Human Genetics  2012;18(3):285-289.
Evaluation of C677T polymorphisms of the methylenetetra hydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene and its association with level of serum homocysteine, folate, and vitamin B12 as possible maternal risk factors for Down syndrome.
This was a case–control study.
Fifty-two mothers (mean age 27.6 years) with babies having free trisomy 21 of North Indian ethnicity and 52 control nonlactating mothers (mean age 24.9 years) of same ethnicity attending services of genetic lab for bloodletting for other causes were enrolled after informed written consent. Fasting blood was collected and was used for determination of plasma homocysteine, vitamin B12, and folate (serum and RBC), and for PCR amplification of the MTHFR gene.
The prevalence of MTHFR C677T polymorphism in north Indian mothers of babies with trisomy 21 Down syndrome was 15.38% compared to 5.88 % in controls. The difference between two groups was not statistically significant (P = 0.124). Low serum folate was demonstrated in 34.62% of cases vs. 11.54% in controls, which was significant (P = 0.005). Low RBC folate was found in 30.7% of cases versus 11.53% in controls, which was not significant (P = 0.059), when analyzed independently. But on multiple regression analysis the difference was statistically significant. Low serum vitamin B12 was found in 42.31% of cases versus 34.62% in controls, which was not significant (P = 0.118). The mean serum homocysteine in cases was 10.35 ± 0.68 while controls were 9.02 ± 0.535.
Serum levels of folate were low in cases. The RBC folate levels were comparable in both groups. However the combined serum folate and RBC folate were low in cases compared to control groups. Homocysteine levels in our study were higher in Down syndrome mothers compared to controls; however high-serum level of Homocysteine had no association with MTHFR polymorphism. No association of serum vitamin B12 with MTHFR polymorphism in occurrence of Down syndrome births was found. Peri- or preconceptional folate supplementation may therefore lead to a decline in DS births, if supported by larger studies.
PMCID: PMC3656515  PMID: 23716934
Down syndrome; methylenetetra hydrofolate reductase gene; serum and RBC folate; serum homocysteine; serum vitamin B12
17.  Genetic and Lifestyle Variables Associated with Homocysteine Concentrations and the Distribution of Folate Derivatives in Healthy Premenopausal Women 
Low folate and high homocysteine (Hcy) concentrations are associated with pregnancy-related pathologies such as spina bifida. Polymorphisms in folate/Hcy metabolic enzymes may contribute to this potentially pathogenic biochemical phenotype.
The study comprised 26 Caucasian and 23 African-American premenopausal women. Subjects gave fasting blood samples for biochemical phenotyping and genotyping. Total Hcy (tHcy) and both plasma and red blood cell (RBC) folate derivatives [i.e. tetrahydrofolate (THF), 5-methylTHF (5-MTHF), and 5,10-methenylTHF (5,10-MTHF)] were measured using stable isotope dilution liquid chromatography, multiple reaction monitoring, mass spectrometry. Eleven polymorphisms from nine folate/Hcy pathway genes were genotyped. Tests of association between genetic, lifestyle, and biochemical variables were applied.
In African American women, tHcy concentrations were associated (p<0.05) with total RBC folate, RBC 5-MTHF, B12, and polymorphisms in methionine synthase (MTR) and thymidylate synthase (TYMS). In Caucasian women, tHcy concentrations were not associated with total folate levels, but were associated (p<0.05) with RBC THF, ratios of RBC 5-MTHF: THF, and polymorphisms in 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) and MTR . In African Americans, folate derivative levels were associated with smoking, B12, and polymorphisms in MTR, TYMS, methionine synthase reductase (MTRR), and reduced folate carrier1 (RFC1). In Caucasians, folate derivative levels were associated with vitamin use, B12, and polymorphisms in MTHFR, TYMS, and RFC1.
Polymorphisms in the folate/Hcy pathway are associated with tHcy and folate derivative levels. In African American and Caucasian women, different factors are associated with folate/Hcy phenotypes and may contribute to race-specific differences in the risks of a range of pregnancy-related pathologies.
PMCID: PMC4051228  PMID: 20544798
Genetics; folate; homocysteine; women; reproductive age; spina bifida risk
18.  Association of Tagging SNPs in the MTHFR Gene with Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and Serum Homocysteine Levels in a Chinese Population 
Disease Markers  2014;2014:725731.
Diabetes is a global public health crisis, and the prevalence is increasing rapidly. Folate supplementation is proved to be effective in reducing the risk of diabetes or improving its symptoms. Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase is an important enzyme involved in folate metabolism. The aim of this study is to examine whether polymorphisms in the MTHFR gene are associated with risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) and fasting total serum homocysteine (tHcy) levels. We genotyped nine tagging SNPs in the MTHFR gene in a case-control study, including 595 T2DM cases and 681 healthy controls in China. We found that C allele of rs9651118 had significant decreased risk of T2DM (adjusted odds ratio (OR) = 0.69, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.55–0.87, P = 0.002) compared with T allele. Haplotype analysis also showed that MTHFR CTCCGA haplotype (rs12121543-rs13306553-rs9651118-rs1801133-rs2274976-rs1801131) had significant reduced risk of T2DM (adjusted OR = 0.71, 95% CI: 0.58–0.87, P = 0.001) compared with CTTTGA haplotype. Besides, the MTHFR rs1801133 was significantly associated with serum levels of tHcy in healthy controls (P = 0.0002). These associations were still significant after Bonferroni corrections (P < 0.0056). These findings suggest that variants in the MTHFR gene may influence the risk of T2DM and tHcy levels.
PMCID: PMC4140133  PMID: 25165408
19.  C677T and A1298C Polymorphisms of MTHFR Gene and Their Relation to Homocysteine Levels in Turner Syndrome 
Aims: To determine the frequency of C677T and A1298C polymorphisms of the MTHFR gene and correlate them with homocysteine serum levels in patients with Turner syndrome (TS) and controls. Methods: This case–control study included 78 women with TS and a control group of 372 healthy individuals without personal or family history of cardiovascular disease and cancer. C677T (rs1801133) and A1298C (rs1801131) polymorphisms were detected by polymerase chain reaction–restriction fragment-length polymorphism and the TaqMan system, respectively. Homocysteine serum levels were determined by high-performance liquid chromatography. The results were analyzed statistically, and p<0.05 was considered to represent a significant difference. Results: The homocysteine levels change was 13.9+3.3 nM in patients with TS and 8.8+3.2 nM in the control group. No significant difference between groups was found (p=0.348). Single-marker analysis revealed no association between MTHFR C677T polymorphism and TS when genotype (p=0.063) or allelic (p=0.277) distribution was considered. Regarding MTHFR A1298C polymorphism, a statistical difference was found between the TS group and the control group, for both genotype (p<0.0001) and allele (p<0.0001) distribution. Haplotype analysis of 2 MTHFR polymorphisms identified 2 haplotypes—CC and TC—associated with TS (p<0.001 and p=0.0165, respectively). However, homocysteine levels were not higher in patients with haplotype risk. Conclusion: The results suggest that the C677T and A1298C polymorphisms of the MTHFR gene are not related to homocysteine levels in Brazilian patients with TS, despite the differential distribution of the mutated allele C (A1298C) in these patients. Further studies are needed to investigate the possible genetic interaction with homocysteine levels in TS.
PMCID: PMC3354587  PMID: 22283972
20.  Effect modification by population dietary folate on the association between MTHFR genotype, homocysteine, and stroke risk: a meta-analysis of genetic studies and randomised trials 
Lancet  2011;378(9791):584-594.
The MTHFR 677C→T polymorphism has been associated with raised homocysteine concentration and increased risk of stroke. A previous overview showed that the effects were greatest in regions with low dietary folate consumption, but differentiation between the effect of folate and small-study bias was difficult. A meta-analysis of randomised trials of homocysteine-lowering interventions showed no reduction in coronary heart disease events or stroke, but the trials were generally set in populations with high folate consumption. We aimed to reduce the effect of small-study bias and investigate whether folate status modifies the association between MTHFR 677C→T and stroke in a genetic analysis and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.
We established a collaboration of genetic studies consisting of 237 datasets including 59 995 individuals with data for homocysteine and 20 885 stroke events. We compared the genetic findings with a meta-analysis of 13 randomised trials of homocysteine-lowering treatments and stroke risk (45 549 individuals, 2314 stroke events, 269 transient ischaemic attacks).
The effect of the MTHFR 677C→T variant on homocysteine concentration was larger in low folate regions (Asia; difference between individuals with TT versus CC genotype, 3·12 μmol/L, 95% CI 2·23 to 4·01) than in areas with folate fortification (America, Australia, and New Zealand, high; 0·13 μmol/L, −0·85 to 1·11). The odds ratio (OR) for stroke was also higher in Asia (1·68, 95% CI 1·44 to 1·97) than in America, Australia, and New Zealand, high (1·03, 0·84 to 1·25). Most randomised trials took place in regions with high or increasing population folate concentrations. The summary relative risk (RR) of stroke in trials of homocysteine-lowering interventions (0·94, 95% CI 0·85 to 1·04) was similar to that predicted for the same extent of homocysteine reduction in large genetic studies in populations with similar folate status (predicted RR 1·00, 95% CI 0·90 to 1·11). Although the predicted effect of homocysteine reduction from large genetic studies in low folate regions (Asia) was larger (RR 0·78, 95% CI 0·68 to 0·90), no trial has evaluated the effect of lowering of homocysteine on stroke risk exclusively in a low folate region.
In regions with increasing levels or established policies of population folate supplementation, evidence from genetic studies and randomised trials is concordant in suggesting an absence of benefit from lowering of homocysteine for prevention of stroke. Further large-scale genetic studies of the association between MTHFR 677C→T and stroke in low folate settings are needed to distinguish effect modification by folate from small-study bias. If future randomised trials of homocysteine-lowering interventions for stroke prevention are undertaken, they should take place in regions with low folate consumption.
Full funding sources listed at end of paper (see Acknowledgments).
PMCID: PMC3156981  PMID: 21803414
21.  Lead Exposure, B Vitamins, and Plasma Homocysteine in Men 55 Years of Age and Older: The VA Normative Aging Study 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2014;122(10):1066-1074.
Background: Lead (Pb) exposure may influence the plasma concentration of homocysteine, a one-carbon metabolite associated with cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Little is known about the associations between Pb and homocysteine over time, or the potential influence of dietary factors.
Objectives: We examined the longitudinal association of recent and cumulative Pb exposure with homocysteine concentrations and the potential modifying effect of dietary nutrients involved in one-carbon metabolism.
Methods: In a subcohort of the Veterans Affairs (VA) Normative Aging Study (1,056 men with 2,301 total observations between 1993 and 2011), we used mixed-effects models to estimate differences in repeated measures of total plasma homocysteine across concentrations of Pb in blood and tibia bone, assessing recent and cumulative Pb exposure, respectively. We also assessed effect modification by dietary intake and plasma concentrations of folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.
Results: An interquartile range (IQR) increment in blood Pb (3 μg/dL) was associated with a 6.3% higher homocysteine concentration (95% CI: 4.8, 7.8%). An IQR increment in tibia bone Pb (14 μg/g) was associated with a 3.7% higher homocysteine (95% CI: 1.6, 5.6%), which was attenuated to 1.5% (95% CI: –0.5, 3.6%) after adjusting for blood Pb. For comparison, a 5-year increase in time from baseline was associated with a 5.7% increase in homocysteine (95% CI: 4.3, 7.1%). The association between blood Pb and homocysteine was significantly stronger among participants with estimated dietary intakes of vitamin B6 and folate below (vs. above) the study population medians, which were similar to the U.S. recommended dietary allowance intakes.
Conclusions: Pb exposure was positively associated with plasma homocysteine concentration. This association was stronger among men with below-median dietary intakes of vitamins B6 and folate. These findings suggest that increasing intake of folate and B6 might reduce Pb-associated increases in homocysteine, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and neurodegeneration.
Citation: Bakulski KM, Park SK, Weisskopf MG, Tucker KL, Sparrow D, Spiro A III, Vokonas PS, Nie LH, Hu H, Weuve J. 2014. Lead exposure, B vitamins, and plasma homocysteine in men 55 years of age and older: the VA Normative Aging Study. Environ Health Perspect 122:1066–1074;
PMCID: PMC4181916  PMID: 24905780
22.  MTHFR 677T Is a Strong Determinant of the Degree of Hearing Loss Among Polish Males with Postlingual Sensorineural Hearing Impairment 
DNA and Cell Biology  2012;31(7):1267-1273.
Hearing impairment (HI) is the most common sensory handicap. Congenital HI often has a genetic basis, whereas the etiology of nonsyndromic postlingual HI (npHI) usually remains unidentified. Our purpose was to test whether the MTHFR C677T (rs1801133) polymorphism affecting folate metabolism is associated with the occurrence or severity of npHI. We studied rs1801133 genotypes in 647 npHI patients (age <40, sudden sensorineural loss excluded, HI characterized as mean of better ear hearing thresholds for 0.5–8 kHz) and 3273 adult controls from the background population. Genotype distribution among patients and controls was similar, but among male cases (n=302) we found a dose-dependent correlation of MTHFR 677T with the degree of HI (mean thresholds in dB: 38.8, 44.9, and 53.3, for CC, CT, and TT genotypes, respectively; p=0.0013, pcor.=0.017). Among male patients rs1801133 TT significantly increased the risk of severe/profound HI (odds ratio=4.88, p=0.001). Among controls the known effect of MTHFR 677T on plasma total homocysteine was more pronounced in men than in women (p<0.00004 for genotype-sex interaction) suggesting that in Poland folate deficiency is more prevalent in males. In conclusion, we report a novel strong effect of MTHFR 677T among males with npHI. The functional significance of rs1801133 suggests that these patients may benefit from folate supplementation—an intervention which is simple, cheap, and devoid of side effects.
PMCID: PMC3391488  PMID: 22424391
23.  The association between MTHFR 677C>T genotype and folate status and genomic and gene-specific DNA methylation in the colon of individuals without colorectal neoplasia1234 
Background: Decreased genomic and increased gene-specific DNA methylation predispose to colorectal cancer. Dietary folate intake and the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase polymorphism (MTHFR 677C>T) may influence risk by modifying DNA methylation.
Objective: We investigated the associations between MTHFR 677C>T genotype, folate status, and DNA methylation in the colon.
Design: We conducted a cross-sectional study of 336 men and women (age 19–92 y) in the United Kingdom without colorectal neoplasia. We obtained blood samples for measurement of serum and red blood cell folate, plasma homocysteine, and MTHFR 677C>T genotype and colonic tissue biopsies for measurement of colonic tissue folate and DNA methylation (genomic- and gene-specific, estrogen receptor 1, ESR1; myoblast determination protein 1, MYOD1; insulin-like growth factor II, IGF2; tumor suppressor candidate 33, N33; adenomatous polyposis coli, APC; mut-L homolog 1, MLH1; and O6-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase, MGMT) by liquid chromatography/electrospray ionization mass spectrometry and pyrosequencing, respectively.
Results: Of the 336 subjects recruited, 185 (55%) carried the CC, 119 (35%) the CT, and 32 (10%) the TT alleles. No significant differences in systemic markers of folate status and colonic tissue folate between genotypes were found. The MTHFR TT genotype was not associated with genomic or gene-specific DNA methylation. Biomarkers of folate status were not associated with genomic DNA methylation. Relations between biomarkers of folate status and gene-specific methylation were inconsistent. However, low serum folate was associated with high MGMT methylation (P = 0.001).
Conclusion: MTHFR 677C>T genotype and folate status were generally not associated with DNA methylation in the colon of a folate-replete population without neoplasia. This trial was registered at as ISRCTN43577261.
PMCID: PMC3831541  PMID: 24108782
24.  Acute Effect of Folic Acid, Betaine, and Serine Supplements on Flow-Mediated Dilation after Methionine Loading: A Randomized Trial 
PLoS Clinical Trials  2006;1(1):e4.
We investigated whether reducing post-methionine homocysteine concentrations via various treatments other than folic acid affects vascular function, as measured through flow-mediated dilation (FMD) of the brachial artery. High fasting and post-methionine homocysteine concentrations are associated with cardiovascular disease risk, but homocysteine might be a surrogate marker for low folate status.
This was a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover study.
The study took place at Wageningen University in Wageningen in the Netherlands.
Participants were 39 apparently healthy men and women, aged 50–70 y.
Participants ingested 10 mg of folic acid, 3 g of betaine, 5 g of serine, and placebo together with an oral methionine load. Each supplement was tested on two different days.
Outcome Measures:
On each of the eight treatment days, plasma homocysteine concentrations and FMD were measured before (t = 0 h, fasting) and 6 h (t = 6 h) after methionine loading.
The mean (± SD) fasting homocysteine concentrations averaged over the eight test days were 9.6 ± 2.1 μmol/l. Mean fasting FMD was 3.1 ± 2.4 FMD%. A methionine load with placebo increased homocysteine concentrations by 17.2 ± 9.3 μmol/l at 6 h after loading, similar to the increase following methionine loading with folic acid. A methionine load together with betaine and with serine increased homocysteine by 10.4 ± 2.8 μmol/l (p < 0.001 relative to placebo) and by 12.1 ± 8.2 μmol/l (p < 0.001 relative to placebo), respectively. Methionine loading with placebo did not affect FMD, and neither did methionine loading with folic acid, betaine, or serine; differences relative to placebo were +0.7 FMD% (95%CI, −0.6; 1.9), +0.2 FMD% (−1.0; 1.3), and +0.3 FMD% (−0.8; 1.4), respectively.
Experimentally induced acute changes in homocysteine concentrations did not affect FMD in healthy volunteers. This implies that potential adverse effects of high homocysteine concentrations on the cardiovascular system are not mediated through vascular function. However, homocysteine or folate may affect cardiovascular disease risk through other mechanisms.
Editorial Commentary
Background: It is already known from observational studies that people with high concentrations of homocysteine (an amino acid) in the blood are at increased risk of disease involving the heart and blood vessels, known as cardiovascular disease. Some randomized trials have also shown that lowering homocysteine levels decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease, but not all trials show this. The mechanisms linking homocysteine levels and cardiovascular disease are not well understood. Olthof and colleagues wanted to explore further the mechanisms linking homocysteine levels and the risk of cardiovascular disease. The investigators did a trial in healthy volunteers in which homocysteine concentrations were experimentally raised, then lowered, over short periods of time. The volunteers took a methionine supplement (an amino acid that is converted to homocysteine in the body) to raise homocysteine levels and either betaine (a dietary nutrient), serine (an amino acid), or folic acid (a B vitamin) to lower them. During the trial, the researchers then looked at how well the volunteers' arm arteries functioned, as a surrogate for measuring cardiovascular disease risk.
What this trial shows: The investigators found that functioning of the volunteers' arteries, as measured through flow-mediated dilation (FMD), was not affected by the changes in homocysteine levels that were brought about in the experiment.
Strengths and limitations: Although the number of participants analyzed in the trial was small (n = 39), it was large enough to adequately test the researchers' hypothesis. The vast majority of participants received the experimental treatment, with only one participant dropping out of the study. However, the observations were made over a short period of time, within 6 h of the experimental treatments being given. The investigators did not look at clinical outcomes, such as heart disease or stroke. Therefore, this trial does not provide evidence on whether altered homocysteine levels cause, or could be manipulated to prevent, such clinical outcomes.
Contribution to the evidence: This trial adds information on the short-term effects of changes in homocysteine levels.
PMCID: PMC1488894  PMID: 16871326
25.  118 SNPs of folate-related genes and risks of spina bifida and conotruncal heart defects 
BMC Medical Genetics  2009;10:49.
Folic acid taken in early pregnancy reduces risks for delivering offspring with several congenital anomalies. The mechanism by which folic acid reduces risk is unknown. Investigations into genetic variation that influences transport and metabolism of folate will help fill this data gap. We focused on 118 SNPs involved in folate transport and metabolism.
Using data from a California population-based registry, we investigated whether risks of spina bifida or conotruncal heart defects were influenced by 118 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with the complex folate pathway. This case-control study included 259 infants with spina bifida and a random sample of 359 nonmalformed control infants born during 1983–86 or 1994–95. It also included 214 infants with conotruncal heart defects born during 1983–86. Infant genotyping was performed blinded to case or control status using a designed SNPlex assay. We examined single SNP effects for each of the 118 SNPs, as well as haplotypes, for each of the two outcomes.
Few odds ratios (ORs) revealed sizable departures from 1.0. With respect to spina bifida, we observed ORs with 95% confidence intervals that did not include 1.0 for the following SNPs (heterozygous or homozygous) relative to the reference genotype: BHMT (rs3733890) OR = 1.8 (1.1–3.1), CBS (rs2851391) OR = 2.0 (1.2–3.1); CBS (rs234713) OR = 2.9 (1.3–6.7); MTHFD1 (rs2236224) OR = 1.7 (1.1–2.7); MTHFD1 (hcv11462908) OR = 0.2 (0–0.9); MTHFD2 (rs702465) OR = 0.6 (0.4–0.9); MTHFD2 (rs7571842) OR = 0.6 (0.4–0.9); MTHFR (rs1801133) OR = 2.0 (1.2–3.1); MTRR (rs162036) OR = 3.0 (1.5–5.9); MTRR (rs10380) OR = 3.4 (1.6–7.1); MTRR (rs1801394) OR = 0.7 (0.5–0.9); MTRR (rs9332) OR = 2.7 (1.3–5.3); TYMS (rs2847149) OR = 2.2 (1.4–3.5); TYMS (rs1001761) OR = 2.4 (1.5–3.8); and TYMS (rs502396) OR = 2.1 (1.3–3.3). However, multiple SNPs observed for a given gene showed evidence of linkage disequilibrium indicating that the observed SNPs were not individually contributing to risk. We did not observe any ORs with confidence intervals that did not include 1.0 for any of the studied SNPs with conotruncal heart defects. Haplotype reconstruction showed statistical evidence of nonrandom associations with TYMS, MTHFR, BHMT and MTR for spina bifida.
Our observations do not implicate a particular folate transport or metabolism gene to be strongly associated with risks for spina bifida or conotruncal defects.
PMCID: PMC2700092  PMID: 19493349

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