Severe Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase Deficiency: Clinical Clues to a Potentially Treatable Cause of Adult-Onset Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia

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Hereditary spastic paraplegia is a highly heterogeneous group of neurogenetic disorders with pure and complicated clinical phenotypes. No treatment is available for these disorders. We identified 2 unrelated families, each with 2 siblings with severe methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) deficiency manifesting a complicated form of adult-onset hereditary spastic paraparesis partially responsive to betaine therapy.


Both pairs of siblings presented with a similar combination of progressive spastic paraparesis and polyneuropathy, variably associated with behavioral changes, cognitive impairment, psychosis, seizures, and leukoencephalopathy, beginning between the ages of 29 and 50 years. By the time of diagnosis a decade later, 3 patients were ambulatory and 1 was bedridden. Investigations have revealed severe hyperhomocysteinemia and hypomethioninemia, reduced fibroblast MTHFR enzymatic activity (18%-52% of control participants), and 3 novel pathogenic MTHFR mutations, 2 as compound heterozygotes in one family and 1 as a homozygous mutation in the other family. Treatment with betaine produced a rapid decline of homocysteine by 50% to 70% in all 4 patients and, over 9 to 15 years, improved the conditions of the 3 ambulatory patients.


Although severe MTHFR deficiency is a rare cause of complicated spastic paraparesis in adults, it should be considered in select patients because of the potential therapeutic benefit of betaine supplementation.

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