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Hyperhomocysteinemia is an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease, acute myocardial infarction, peripheral arterial disease, stroke, and venous thromboembolism. Homocysteine is a sulfhydryl-containing amino acid formed as an intermediary during the conversion of methionine to cystathionine. Genetic or nutrition-related disturbances (eg, deficiency of vitamins B12, B6, and folic acid) may impair the transsulfuration or remethylation pathways of homocysteine metabolism and cause hyperhomocysteinemia. The enzyme MTHFR catalyzes reduction of 5,10-methylene tetrahydrofolate to 5-methyl tetrahydrofolate, the major form of folate in plasma; 5-methyl tetrahydrofolate serves as a methyl donor for remethylation of homocysteine to methionine. Patients with severe MTHFR deficiency (enzymatic activity 0%-20% of normal) develop homocysteinuria, a severe disorder with a wide range of associated clinical manifestations, including developmental delay, mental retardation, and premature vascular disease. Seven unique MTHFR mutations have been associated with homocysteinuria, all among patients who were either homozygous or compound heterozygotes for 1 or more of these mutations.
A milder deficiency of MTHFR, with approximately 50% residual enzyme activity and marked enzyme lability to heat inactivation, is associated with a cytosine to thymine mutation at nucleotide position 677 (C677->T), encoding for an alanine-223 to valine substitution (MTHFR C677T). Patients who are homozygous for the MTHFR C677T mutation may develop hyperhomocysteinemia, especially with concurrent deficiency of vitamins B12, B6 (pyridoxine), or folic acid. This mutation is quite common, with a carrier frequency of 31% to 39% (homozygote frequency 9%-17%) among the white North American population. The MTHFR C677T mutation test is a direct assay of patient leukocyte genomic DNA.
For suspected hyperhomocysteinemia, we recommend that a basal plasma homocysteine level be measured. Vitamin B12, B6, and folic acid levels should be measured in patients with hyperhomocysteinemia.
Direct mutation analysis for the MTHFR C677T mutation should be reserved for patients with coronary artery disease, acute myocardial infarction, peripheral vascular artery disease, stroke, or venous thromboembolism who have increased basal homocysteine levels or an abnormal methionine-load test.
For Mayo Clinic patients, Cardiovascular, Vascular, Thrombophilia Center, Special Coagulation Clinic, and Medical Genetics consultations and counseling are available for questions regarding DNA diagnostic testing, test interpretation, and patient management, and may be especially helpful in complex cases.
The MTHFR C677T mutation test does not detect other causes of hyperhomocysteinemia, such as occur with other mutations within the MTHFR gene or the cystathionine beta-synthase gene. In addition, the MTHFR gene mutation may not be present when hyperhomocysteinemia is due to acquired disorders, such as deficiency of vitamins B12, B6, or folic acid; chronic renal failure; zinc deficiency; leukemia; psoriasis; or antifolate drug therapy.
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