Drugs and folate metabolism

Drugs. 1985 Aug;30(2):145-55. doi: 10.2165/00003495-198530020-00003.


Folates are a group of compounds which are required in the diet and are important in DNA, amino acids and possibly also amine metabolism. The biologically active folates are in the tetrahydro form. Tetrahydrofolates are produced from unreduced dietary folates by the enzyme dihydrofolate reductase. A number of drugs such as aminopterin, methotrexate (amethopterin), pyrimethamine, trimethoprim and triamterene act as folate antagonists and produce folate deficiency by inhibiting this enzyme. With other drugs which produce low serum and tissue concentrations of folate such as anticonvulsants, antituberculosis drugs, alcohol and oral contraceptives, the mechanism of this effect is uncertain. Possible mechanism include reduced absorption, prevention of release of folate from tissue stores, altered plasma protein binding, or increased folate metabolism in the liver. Treatment with folic acid antagonists such as methotrexate readily causes megaloblastic anaemia; this can be prevented by therapy with folinic acid (5-formyltetrahydrofolate). The role of other drugs in producing megaloblastic anaemia is less certain, e.g. it occurs in less than 0.75% of patients receiving anticonvulsants. The possible neurological and psychiatric effects of folate deficiency are also uncertain. However, in patients with folate deficiency who have neuropsychiatric symptoms, neuropathy or myelopathy, and normal vitamin B12 levels, it may be of value to try therapy with folic or folinic acid.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amines / metabolism
  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Anemia, Megaloblastic / etiology
  • Anticonvulsants / metabolism
  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacology
  • Antitubercular Agents / pharmacology
  • Biological Transport, Active
  • Biotransformation
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal / pharmacology
  • Ethanol / pharmacology
  • Folic Acid / metabolism*
  • Folic Acid Antagonists / metabolism
  • Folic Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Folic Acid Deficiency / complications
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption / drug effects
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Neural Tube Defects / etiology
  • Purines / biosynthesis
  • Pyrimidines / biosynthesis
  • Seizures / drug therapy


  • Amines
  • Amino Acids
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antitubercular Agents
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal
  • Folic Acid Antagonists
  • Purines
  • Pyrimidines
  • Ethanol
  • Folic Acid