Holotranscobalamin (HoloTC, Active-B12) and Herbert's model for the development of vitamin B12 deficiency: a review and alternative hypothesis

Springerplus. 2016 May 20;5(1):668. doi: 10.1186/s40064-016-2252-z. eCollection 2016.


The concentration of total vitamin B12 in serum is not a sufficiently sensitive or specific indicator for the reliable diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency. Victor Herbert proposed a model for the staged development of vitamin B12 deficiency, in which holotranscobalamin (HoloTC) is the first indicator of deficiency. Based on this model, a commercial immunoassay has been controversially promoted as a replacement for the total vitamin B12 test. HoloTC is cobalamin (vitamin B12) attached to the transport protein transcobalamin, in the serum, for delivery to cells for metabolism. Although there have been many published reports supporting the claims for HoloTC, the results of some studies were inconsistent with the claim of HoloTC as the most sensitive marker of vitamin B12 deficiency. This review examines the evidence for and against the use of HoloTC, and concludes that the HoloTC immunoassay cannot be used to measure vitamin B12 status any more reliably than total vitamin B12, or to predict the onset of a metabolic deficiency, because it is based on an erroneous hypothesis and a flawed model for the staged development of vitamin B12 deficiency. The author proposes an alternative model for the development of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Keywords: Active-B12; HoloTC; Holotranscobalamin; Methylmalonic acid; Vitamin B12.

Publication types

  • Review