The metabolic basis for developmental disorders due to defective folate transport

Biochimie. 2016 Jul;126:31-42. doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2016.02.012. Epub 2016 Feb 24.


Folates are essential in the intermediary metabolism of amino acids, synthesis of nucleotides and for maintaining methylation reactions. They are also linked to the production of neurotransmitters through GTP needed for the synthesis of tetrahydrobiopterin. During pregnancy, folate is needed for fetal development. Folate deficiency during this period has been linked to increased risk of neural tube defects. Disturbances of folate metabolism due to genetic abnormalities or the presence of autoantibodies to folate receptor alpha (FRα) can impair physiologic processes dependent on folate, resulting in a variety of developmental disorders including cerebral folate deficiency syndrome and autism spectrum disorders. Overall, adequate folate status has proven to be important during pregnancy as well as neurological development and functioning in neonates and children. Treatment with pharmacologic doses of folinic acid has led to reversal of some symptoms in many children diagnosed with cerebral folate deficiency syndrome and autism, especially in those positive for autoantibodies to FRα. Thus, as the brain continues to develop throughout fetal and infant life, it can be affected and become dysfunctional due to a defective folate transport contributing to folate deficiency. Treatment and prevention of these disorders can be achieved by identification of those at risk and supplementation with folinic acid.

Keywords: Autism; Autoantibodies; Developmental disorders; Folate receptor.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder* / genetics
  • Autistic Disorder* / metabolism
  • Autistic Disorder* / pathology
  • Autoantibodies / metabolism
  • Biological Transport, Active / genetics
  • Female
  • Folate Receptor 1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Folate Receptor 1 / genetics
  • Folate Receptor 1 / metabolism
  • Folic Acid Deficiency* / genetics
  • Folic Acid Deficiency* / metabolism
  • Folic Acid Deficiency* / pathology
  • Folic Acid*
  • Humans
  • Neural Tube Defects* / genetics
  • Neural Tube Defects* / metabolism
  • Neural Tube Defects* / pathology
  • Pregnancy


  • Autoantibodies
  • Folate Receptor 1
  • Folic Acid