Inhibiting MARSs reduces hyperhomocysteinemia-associated neural tube and congenital heart defects

EMBO Mol Med. 2020 Mar 6;12(3):e9469. doi: 10.15252/emmm.201809469. Epub 2020 Jan 31.


Hyperhomocysteinemia is a common metabolic disorder that imposes major adverse health consequences. Reducing homocysteine levels, however, is not always effective against hyperhomocysteinemia-associated pathologies. Herein, we report the potential roles of methionyl-tRNA synthetase (MARS)-generated homocysteine signals in neural tube defects (NTDs) and congenital heart defects (CHDs). Increased copy numbers of MARS and/or MARS2 were detected in NTD and CHD patients. MARSs sense homocysteine and transmit its signal by inducing protein lysine (N)-homocysteinylation. Here, we identified hundreds of novel N-homocysteinylated proteins. N-homocysteinylation of superoxide dismutases (SOD1/2) provided new mechanistic insights for homocysteine-induced oxidative stress, apoptosis and Wnt signalling deregulation. Elevated MARS expression in developing and proliferating cells sensitizes them to the effects of homocysteine. Targeting MARSs using the homocysteine analogue acetyl homocysteine thioether (AHT) reversed MARS efficacy. AHT lowered NTD and CHD onsets in retinoic acid-induced and hyperhomocysteinemia-induced animal models without affecting homocysteine levels. We provide genetic and biochemical evidence to show that MARSs are previously overlooked genetic determinants and key pathological factors of hyperhomocysteinemia, and suggest that MARS inhibition represents an important medicinal approach for controlling hyperhomocysteinemia-associated diseases.

Keywords: N-homocysteinylation; acetyl homocysteine thioether; methionyl-tRNA synthetase; neural tube defects; reactive oxygen species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Heart Defects, Congenital* / prevention & control
  • Homocysteine
  • Humans
  • Hyperhomocysteinemia* / genetics
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Methionine-tRNA Ligase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neural Tube Defects* / prevention & control
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • United States


  • Homocysteine
  • Methionine-tRNA Ligase

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