Cobalamin and folate evaluation: measurement of methylmalonic acid and homocysteine vs vitamin B(12) and folate

Clin Chem. 2000 Aug;46(8 Pt 2):1277-83.


Vitamin B(12) and folate are two vitamins that have interdependent roles in nucleic acid synthesis. Deficiencies of either vitamin can cause megaloblastic anemia; however, inappropriate treatment of B(12) deficiency with folate can cause irreversible nerve degeneration. Inadequate folate nutrition during early pregnancy can cause neural tube defects in the developing fetus. In addition, folate and vitamin B(12) deficiency and the compensatory increase in homocysteine are a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Laboratory support for the diagnosis and management of these multiple clinical entities is controversial and somewhat problematic. Automated ligand binding measurements of vitamin B(12) and folate are easiest to perform and widely used. Unfortunately, these tests are not the most sensitive indicators of disease. Measurement of red cell folate is less dependent on dietary fluctuations, but these measurements may not be reliable. Homocysteine and methylmalonic acid are better metabolic indicators of deficiencies at the tissue level. There are no "gold standards" for the diagnosis of these disorders, and controversy exists regarding the best diagnostic approach. Healthcare strategies that consider the impact of laboratory tests on the overall costs and quality of care should consider the advantages of including methylmalonic acid and homocysteine in the early evaluation of patients with suspected deficiencies of vitamin B(12) and folate.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Folic Acid / analysis*
  • Folic Acid / metabolism
  • Folic Acid Deficiency / diagnosis
  • Homocysteine / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Methylmalonic Acid / analysis*
  • Vitamin B 12 / analysis*
  • Vitamin B 12 / metabolism
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency / diagnosis


  • Homocysteine
  • Methylmalonic Acid
  • Folic Acid
  • Vitamin B 12