Genetic defects in folate and cobalamin pathways affecting the brain

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Folate and cobalamin are necessary for early brain development and function. Deficiency of folate or cobalamin during pregnancy can cause severe malformation in the central nervous system such as neural tube defects. After birth, folate and cobalamin deficiency can cause anemia, failure to thrive, recurrent infections, psychiatric and neurological symptoms. The folate and the homocysteine metabolic pathways interact at a central step where 5-methyltetrahydrofolate donates its methyl group to homocysteine to produce methionine and tetrahydrofolate. Methyl cobalamin and folate interact at this critical step. Both nutrients have a crucial role in DNA synthesis and in delivering S-adenosylmethionine, the universal methyl donor. Severe and mild inherited disorders in folate and cobalamin pathways have been described. The two groups of disorders share some similarities, but differ in the molecular mechanism, metabolic dysregulation, and disease management. This review summarizes selected disorders, including rare and common mutations that affect folate and cobalamin absorption, transport, or dependent enzymes. When the mutations are discovered early enough, many of the described disorders are easily treatable by B vitamin supplementation, which often prevents or reverses the manifestation of the disease. Therefore, the screening for mutations is recommended and should be carried out as early as possible: after occurrence of the first symptoms or when a certain constellations of the folate and cobalamin related markers are measured, such as elevated homocysteine and/or methylmalonic acid.

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