Vitamin C. Biosynthesis, recycling and degradation in mammals

FEBS J. 2007 Jan;274(1):1-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-4658.2006.05607.x.


Vitamin C, a reducing agent and antioxidant, is a cofactor in reactions catalyzed by Cu(+)-dependent monooxygenases and Fe(2+)-dependent dioxygenases. It is synthesized, in vertebrates having this capacity, from d-glucuronate. The latter is formed through direct hydrolysis of uridine diphosphate (UDP)-glucuronate by enzyme(s) bound to the endoplasmic reticulum membrane, sharing many properties with, and most likely identical to, UDP-glucuronosyltransferases. Non-glucuronidable xenobiotics (aminopyrine, metyrapone, chloretone and others) stimulate the enzymatic hydrolysis of UDP-glucuronate, accounting for their effect to increase vitamin C formation in vivo. Glucuronate is converted to l-gulonate by aldehyde reductase, an enzyme of the aldo-keto reductase superfamily. l-Gulonate is converted to l-gulonolactone by a lactonase identified as SMP30 or regucalcin, whose absence in mice leads to vitamin C deficiency. The last step in the pathway of vitamin C synthesis is the oxidation of l-gulonolactone to l-ascorbic acid by l-gulonolactone oxidase, an enzyme associated with the endoplasmic reticulum membrane and deficient in man, guinea pig and other species due to mutations in its gene. Another fate of glucuronate is its conversion to d-xylulose in a five-step pathway, the pentose pathway, involving identified oxidoreductases and an unknown decarboxylase. Semidehydroascorbate, a major oxidation product of vitamin C, is reconverted to ascorbate in the cytosol by cytochrome b(5) reductase and thioredoxin reductase in reactions involving NADH and NADPH, respectively. Transmembrane electron transfer systems using ascorbate or NADH as electron donors serve to reduce semidehydroascorbate present in neuroendocrine secretory vesicles and in the extracellular medium. Dehydroascorbate, the fully oxidized form of vitamin C, is reduced spontaneously by glutathione, as well as enzymatically in reactions using glutathione or NADPH. The degradation of vitamin C in mammals is initiated by the hydrolysis of dehydroascorbate to 2,3-diketo-l-gulonate, which is spontaneously degraded to oxalate, CO(2) and l-erythrulose. This is at variance with bacteria such as Escherichia coli, which have enzymatic degradation pathways for ascorbate and probably also dehydroascorbate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ascorbic Acid / biosynthesis
  • Ascorbic Acid / metabolism*
  • Carbohydrate Dehydrogenases / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Glucuronates / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrolysis
  • L-Gulonolactone Oxidase / metabolism
  • Mammals / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Pentose Phosphate Pathway
  • Uridine Diphosphate Glucuronic Acid / metabolism


  • Glucuronates
  • Uridine Diphosphate Glucuronic Acid
  • Carbohydrate Dehydrogenases
  • L-glucuronate reductase
  • L-Gulonolactone Oxidase
  • Ascorbic Acid