Vitamin B12 normally plays a significant role in the metabolism of every cell of the body, especially affecting the DNA synthesis and regulation but also fatty acid synthesis and energy production. However, many (though not all) of the effects of functions of B12 can be replaced by sufficient quantities of folic acid (vitamin B9), since B12 is used to regenerate folate in the body. Most vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms are actually folate deficiency symptoms, since they include all the effects of pernicious anemia and megaloblastosis, which are due to poor synthesis of DNA when the body does not have a proper supply of folic acid for the production of thymine. When sufficient folic acid is available, all known B12 related deficiency syndromes normalize, save those narrowly connected with the vitamin B12-dependent enzymes Methylmalonyl Coenzyme A mutase, and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate-homocysteine methyltransferase (MTR), also known as methionine synthase; and the buildup of their respective substrates (methylmalonic acid, MMA) and homocysteine.
Coenzyme B12′s reactive C-Co bond participates in three main types of enzyme-catalyzed reactions.
- Isomerases. Rearrangements in which a hydrogen atom is directly transferred between two adjacent atoms with concomitant exchange of the second substituent, X, which may be a carbon atom with substituents, an oxygen atom of an alcohol, or an amine.
- Methyltransferases. Methyl (- CH3) group transfers between two molecules.
- Dehalogenases. Reactions in which a halogen atom is removed from an organic molecule. Enzymes in this class have not been identified in humans.
In humans, two major coenzyme B12-dependent enzyme families corresponding to the first two reaction types, are known.
There are two types of enzymes:
MUT is an isomerase which uses the AdoB12 form and reaction type 1 to catalyze a carbon skeleton rearrangement (the X group is – COSCoA). MUT’s reaction converts MMl-CoA to Su-CoA, an important step in the extraction of energy from proteins and fats (for more information, see MUT’s reaction mechanism). This functionality is lost in vitamin B12 deficiency, and can be measured clinically as an increased methylmalonic acid (MMA) level. Unfortunately, an elevated MMA, though sensitive to B12 deficiency, is probably overly sensitive, and not all who have it actually have B12 deficiency. For example, MMA is elevated in 90– 98 % of patients with B12 deficiency; however 20– 25 % of patients over the age of 70 have elevated levels of MMA, yet 25– 33 % of them do not have B12 deficiency. For this reason, assessment of MMA levels is not routinely recommended in the elderly. There is no “gold standard” test for B12 deficiency because as a B12 deficiency occurs, serum values may be maintained while tissue B12 stores become depleted. Therefore, serum B12 values above the cut-off point of deficiency do not necessarily indicate adequate B12 status The MUT function can not be affected by folate supplementation, which is necessary for myelin synthesis (see mechanism below) and certain other functions of the central nervous system. Other functions of B12 related to DNA synthesis related to MTR dysfunction (see below) can often be corrected with supplementation with the vitamin folic acid, but not the elevated levels of homocysteine, which is normally converted to methionine by MTR.
MTR, also known as methionine synthase, is a methyltransferase enzyme, which uses the MeB12 and reaction type 2 to catalyze the conversion of the amino acid homocysteine (Hcy) back into methionine (Met) (for more see MTR’s reaction mechanism). This functionality is lost in vitamin B12 deficiency, and can be measured clinically as an increased homocysteine level in vitro. Increased homocysteine can also be caused by a folic acid deficiency, since B12 helps to regenerate the tetrahydrofolate (THF) active form of folic acid. Without B12, folate is trapped as 5-methyl-folate, from which THF can not be recovered unless a MTR process reacts the 5-methyl-folate with homocysteine to produce methionine and THF, thus decreasing the need for fresh sources of THF from the diet. THF may be produced in the conversion of homocysteine to methionine, or may be obtained in the diet. It is converted by a non-B12-dependent process to 5,10-methylene-THF, which is involved in the synthesis of thymine. Reduced availability of 5,10-methylene-THF results in problems with DNA synthesis, and ultimately in ineffective production cells with rapid turnover, in particular blood cells, and also intestinal wall cells which are responsible for absorption. The failure of blood cell production results in the once-dreaded and fatal disease, pernicious anemia. All of the DNA synthetic effects, including the megaloblastic anemia of pernicious anemia, resolve if sufficient folate is present (since levels of 5,10-methylene-THF still remain adequate with enough dietary folate). Thus the best-known “function” of B12 (that which is involved with DNA synthesis, cell-division, and anemia) is actually a facultative function which is mediated by B12-conservation of an active form of folate which is needed for efficient DNA production. Other cobalamin-requiring methyltransferase enzymes are also known in bacteria, such as Me-H4-MPT, coenzyme M methyl transferase.