Epidemiological evidence has revealed that an elevated plasma homocysteine level (hyperhomocysteinemia) confers an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and neural tube defects. Hyperhomocysteinemia is caused by both nutritional (e.g. folate, vitamins B(6) and B(12)) and genetic factors, including functional polymorphisms of key enzymes involved in homocysteine metabolism. One such enzyme, methionine synthase reductase (MTRR), maintains adequate levels of methylcob(III)alamin, the activated cofactor for methionine synthase, which catalyzes the remethylation of homocysteine to methionine. A common MTRR polymorphism, i.e. a 66 A-->G substitution specifying an isoleucine to methionine substitution (I22M), was recently identified. To assess the influence of this polymorphism on total plasma homocysteine (tHcy), we undertook a genotype/phenotype analysis in a study population of 601 Northern-Irish men, aged 30--49, for which biochemical and genetic data relevant to folate/homocysteine metabolism had already been acquired. The 66AA genotype has a frequency of 29% in this population. We established that there was a significant influence of MTRR genotype on tHcy ranking (P=0.004) and that the 66AA genotype contributes to a moderate increase in tHcy levels across the distribution [OR 1.59 (95% CI: 1.10--2.25) for the 66AA genotype to be in the upper half of the tHcy distribution, P=0.03]. The homocysteine-elevating effect of the 66AA genotype is independent of serum folate, vitamin B(12) and vitamin B(6) levels. Based on published estimates of the enhanced cardiovascular disease risk conferred by defined increments of plasma tHcy, we estimate that 66AA homozygotes have, on average, an approximately 4% increase in cardiovascular disease risk compared to 66GG homozygotes. This study provides the first evidence that the MTRR A66G polymorphism significantly influences the circulating tHcy concentration.