Mammalian MTHFR is composed of an N-terminal catalytic domain and a C-terminal regulatory domain. MTHFR has at least two promoters and two isoforms (70 kDa and 77 kDa).
MTHFR activity may be inhibited by binding of dihydrofolate (DHF) and S-adenosylmethionine (SAM, or AdoMet). MTHFR can also be phosphorylated - this decreases its activity by ~20% and allows it to be more easily inhibited by SAM.
Interactive pathway map
Click on genes, proteins and metabolites below to link to respective articles.[§ 1]
The MTHFR nucleotide at position 677 in the gene has two possibilities: C (cytosine) or T (thymine). C at position 677 (leading to an alanine at amino acid 222) is the normal allele. The 677T allele (leading to a valine substitution at amino acid 222) encodes a thermolabile enzyme with reduced activity.
Individuals with two copies of 677C (677CC) have the "normal" or "wildtype" genotype. 677TT individuals (homozygous) are said to have mild MTHFR deficiency. 677CT individuals (heterozygotes) are almost the same as normal individuals because the normal MTHFR can make up for the thermolabile MTHFR. About ten percent of the North American population are T-homozygous for this polymorphism. There is ethnic variability in the frequency of the T allele – frequency in Mediterranean/Hispanics is greater than the frequency in Caucasians which, in turn, is greater than in Africans/African-Americans.
The degree of enzyme thermolability (assessed as residual activity after heat inactivation) is much greater in 677TT individuals (18-22%) compared with 677CT (56%) and 677CC (66-67%). Individuals of 677TT are predisposed to mild hyperhomocysteinemia (high blood homocysteine levels), because they have less active MTHFR available to produce 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (which is used to decrease homocysteine). Low dietary intake of the vitaminfolic acid can also cause mild hyperhomocysteinemia.
Low folate intake affects individuals with the 677TT genotype to a greater extent than those with the 677CC/CT genotypes. 677TT (but not 677CC/CT) individuals with lower plasma folate levels are at risk for elevated plasma homocysteine levels. In studies of human recombinant MTHFR, the protein encoded by 677T loses its FAD cofactor three times faster than the wild-type protein. 5-Methyl-THF slows the rate of FAD release in both the wild-type and mutant enzymes, although it is to a much greater extent in the mutant enzyme. 677TT individuals are at an increased risk for certain leukemias and colon cancer.
Mutations in the MTHFR gene could be one of the factors leading to increased risk of developing schizophrenia. Schizophrenic patients having the risk allele (T\T) show more deficiencies in executive function tasks.
There is also a tentative link between MTHFR mutations and dementia. One study of an elderly Japanese population  found correlations between the MTHFR 677CT mutation, an Apo E polymorphism, and certain types of senile dementia. Other research has found that individuals with folate-related mutations can still have a functional deficiency even when blood levels of folate are within the normal range, and recommended supplementation of methyltetrahydrofolate to potentially prevent and treat dementia (along with depression).
A1298C SNP (Glu429Ala)
At nucleotide 1298 of the MTHFR, there are two possibilities: A or C. 1298A (leading to a Glu at amino acid 429) is the most common while 1298C (leading to an Ala substitution at amino acid 429) is less common. 1298AA is the "normal" homozygous, 1298AC the heterozygous, and 1298CC the homozygous for the "variant". In studies of human recombinant MTHFR, the protein encoded by 1298C cannot be distinguished from 1298A in terms of activity, thermolability, FAD release, or the protective effect of 5-methyl-THF. The C mutation does not appear to affect the MTHFR protein. It does not result in thermolabile MTHFR and does not appear to affect homocysteine levels.
There has been some commentary on a 'reverse reaction' in which tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4) is produced when 5-methyltetrahydrofolate is converted back into methylenetetrahydrofolate. This however is not universally agreed upon. That reaction is thought to require 5-MTHF and SAMe. An alternative opinion is that 5-MTHF processes peroxynitrite, thereby preserving existing BH4, and that no such 'reverse reaction' occurs.
Detection of MTHFR Polymorphisms
A new triplex tetra-primer ARMS-PCR method was developed for the simultaneous detection of C677T and A1298C polymorphisms with the A66G MTRR polymorphism in a single PCR reaction (Lajin et al., 2012).
Severe MTHFR deficiency
Severe MTHFR deficiency is rare (about 50 cases worldwide) and caused by mutations resulting in 0-20% residual enzyme activity. Patients exhibit developmental delay, motor and gait dysfunction, seizures, and neurological impairment and have extremely high levels of homocysteine in their plasma and urine as well as low to normal plasma methionine levels.
Reaction and metabolism
Schematic diagram of the reductive carbon-nitrogen bond cleavage (represented by wavy line) catalyzed by methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase.
The overall reaction catalyzed by MTHFR is illustrated on the right. The reaction uses an NAD(P)H hydride donor and an FAD cofactor. The E. coli enzyme has a strong preference for the NADH donor, whereas the mammalian enzyme is specific to NADPH.
MTHFR metabolism: folate cycle, methionine cycle, trans-sulfuration and hyperhomocysteinemia
As a drug target
Inhibitors of MTHFR and antisense knockdown of the expression of the enzyme have been proposed as treatments for cancer.
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