First published July 1, 1985 - More info
The megaloblastic anemia of cobalamin deficiency appears secondary to decreased methionine synthetase activity. Decreased activity of this enzyme should cause 5-methyltetrahydrofolate to accumulate intracellularly, and consequently, decrease purine and DNA synthesis; this is the basis of the "methylfolate trap" hypothesis of cobalamin deficiency. However, only some of the clinical and biochemical manifestations of cobalamin deficiency can be explained by the methylfolate trap. We investigated cobalamin deficiency by treating cultured human lymphoblasts with N2O since N2O inhibits methionine synthetase activity by inactivating cobalamin. We found that 4 h of N2O exposure reduced rates of methionine synthesis by 89%. Rates of purine synthesis were not significantly reduced by N2O when folate and methionine were present at 100 microM in the medium; however, at the physiologic methionine concentration of 10 microM, N2O decreased rates of purine synthesis by 33 and 57% in the presence of 100 microM folate and in the absence of folate, respectively. The dependency of rates of purine synthesis on methionine availability would be expected in cells with restricted methionine synthetic capacity because methionine is the immediate precursor of S-adenosylmethionine, a potent inhibitor of 5-methyltetrahydrofolate synthesis; methionine serves as a source of formate for purine synthesis; and rates of purine synthesis are dependent on the intracellular availability of essential amino acids. We conclude that cobalamin inactivation decreases purine synthesis by both methylfolate trapping and reduction of intracellular methionine synthesis.