Lessons Learned from Inherited Metabolic Disorders of Sulfur-Containing Amino Acids Metabolism

J Nutr. 2020 Oct 1;150(Suppl 1):2506S-2517S. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxaa134.


The metabolism of sulfur-containing amino acids (SAAs) requires an orchestrated interplay among several dozen enzymes and transporters, and an adequate dietary intake of methionine (Met), cysteine (Cys), and B vitamins. Known human genetic disorders are due to defects in Met demethylation, homocysteine (Hcy) remethylation, or cobalamin and folate metabolism, in Hcy transsulfuration, and Cys and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) catabolism. These disorders may manifest between the newborn period and late adulthood by a combination of neuropsychiatric abnormalities, thromboembolism, megaloblastic anemia, hepatopathy, myopathy, and bone and connective tissue abnormalities. Biochemical features include metabolite deficiencies (e.g. Met, S-adenosylmethionine (AdoMet), intermediates in 1-carbon metabolism, Cys, or glutathione) and/or their accumulation (e.g. S-adenosylhomocysteine, Hcy, H2S, or sulfite). Treatment should be started as early as possible and may include a low-protein/low-Met diet with Cys-enriched amino acid supplements, pharmacological doses of B vitamins, betaine to stimulate Hcy remethylation, the provision of N-acetylcysteine or AdoMet, or experimental approaches such as liver transplantation or enzyme replacement therapy. In several disorders, patients are exposed to long-term markedly elevated Met concentrations. Although these conditions may inform on Met toxicity, interpretation is difficult due to the presence of additional metabolic changes. Two disorders seem to exhibit Met-associated toxicity in the brain. An increased risk of demyelination in patients with Met adenosyltransferase I/III (MATI/III) deficiency due to biallelic mutations in the MATIA gene has been attributed to very high blood Met concentrations (typically >800 μmol/L) and possibly also to decreased liver AdoMet synthesis. An excessively high Met concentration in some patients with cystathionine β-synthase deficiency has been associated with encephalopathy and brain edema, and direct toxicity of Met has been postulated. In summary, studies in patients with various disorders of SAA metabolism showed complex metabolic changes with distant cellular consequences, most of which are not attributable to direct Met toxicity.

Keywords: S-adenosylhomocysteine hydrolase deficiency; adenosine kinase deficiency; cystathionine β-synthase deficiency; ethylmalonic encephalopathy; glycine N-methyltransferase deficiency; homocystinuria; methionine adenosyltransferase I/III deficiency; methionine restricted diet; remethylation defects; sulfite oxidase deficiency.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Sulfur / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Brain Diseases / etiology
  • Brain Diseases / metabolism
  • Cysteine / metabolism*
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Homocysteine / metabolism*
  • Homocystinuria / etiology
  • Homocystinuria / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Sulfide / metabolism
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Metabolic Diseases / genetics*
  • Metabolic Diseases / metabolism
  • Metabolic Diseases / pathology
  • Metabolic Diseases / therapy
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / pathology
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / therapy
  • Methionine / metabolism*
  • Methionine Adenosyltransferase / metabolism
  • Methylation
  • S-Adenosylmethionine / metabolism
  • Sulfites / metabolism
  • Sulfur / metabolism*
  • Sulfur Compounds / metabolism*


  • Amino Acids, Sulfur
  • Sulfites
  • Sulfur Compounds
  • Homocysteine
  • Sulfur
  • S-Adenosylmethionine
  • Methionine
  • Methionine Adenosyltransferase
  • Glutathione
  • Cysteine
  • Hydrogen Sulfide