Cobalamin deficiency

Subcell Biochem. 2012:56:301-22. doi: 10.1007/978-94-007-2199-9_16.


Cobalamin (Cbl, vitamin B12) consists of a corrinoid structure with cobalt in the centre of the molecule. Neither humans nor animals are able to synthesize this vitamin. Foods of animal source are the only natural source of cobalamin in human diet. There are only two enzymatic reactions in mammalian cells that require cobalamin as cofactor. Methylcobolamin is a cofactor for methionine synthase. The enzyme methylmalonyl-CoA-mutase requires adenosylcobalamin as a cofactor. Therefore, serum concentrations of homocysteine (tHcy) and methylmalonic acid (MMA) will increase in cobalamin deficiency. The cobalamin absorption from diet is a complex process that involves different proteins: haptocorrin, intrinsic factor and transcobalamin (TC). Cobalamin that is bound to TC is called holotranscobalamin (holoTC) which is the metabolically active vitamin B12 fraction. HoloTC consists 6 and 20% of total cobalamin whereas 80% of total serum cobalamin is bound to another binding protein, haptocorrin. Cobalamin deficiency is common worldwide. Cobalamin malabsorption is common in elderly subjects which might explain low vitamin status. Subjects who ingest low amount of cobalamin like vegetarians develop vitamin deficiency. No single parameter can be used to diagnose cobalamin deficiency. Total serum cobalamin is neither sensitive nor it is specific for cobalamin deficiency. This might explain why many deficient subjects would be overlooked by utilizing total cobalamin as status marker. Concentration of holotranscobalamin (holoTC) in serum is an earlier marker that becomes decreased before total serum cobalamin. Concentrations of MMA and tHcy increase in blood of cobalamin deficient subjects. Despite limitations of these markers in patients with renal dysfunction, concentrations of MMA and tHcy are useful functional markers of cobalamin status. The combined use of holoTC and MMA assays may better indicate cobalamin status than either of them. Because Cbl deficiency is a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases an early diagnosis of a low B12 status is required which should be followed by an effective treatment in order to prevent irreversible damages.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Diet, Vegetarian
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption / genetics
  • Kidney Diseases / complications
  • Kidney Diseases / diagnosis
  • Kidney Diseases / metabolism
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / diagnosis
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / etiology
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / metabolism
  • Vitamin B 12 / chemistry
  • Vitamin B 12 / metabolism*
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency* / diagnosis
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency* / etiology
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency* / metabolism
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency* / therapy


  • Biomarkers
  • Vitamin B 12