Methionine and serine formation in control and mutant human cultured fibroblasts: evidence for methyl trapping and characterization of remethylation defects

Pediatr Res. 1997 Jan;41(1):145-51. doi: 10.1203/00006450-199701000-00023.


The conversion of labeled formate to methionine and serine, as a measure of remethylation of homocysteine to methionine and folate coenzyme cycling, has been studied in control and mutant human fibroblasts. Fibroblasts in monolayer culture were incubated with [14C]formate, and labeled methionine sulfone and serine were determined in hydrolysates of oxidized cell proteins. In control cells, methionine and serine were clearly measurable (n = 21, 1.7-5.5 and 2.4-9.7 nmol/mg protein/16 h, respectively). In contrast, methionine formation was reduced in cells from patients with methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MR) deficiency (MR mutant, n = 11, 0.05-0.44), combined methylmalonic aciduria/homocystinuria [cobalamin(cbl)C/D mutant, n = 12, 0.014-0.13), and methionine synthase deficiency (MS mutant, n = 3, 0.04-0.23). Furthermore, serine formation was low in cblC/D mutant (0.08-0.98) and MS mutant (0.17-0.94) cells, but normal or high in MR mutant cells (5.2-11.4). Growth of cblC/D mutant cells in medium supplemented with high concentrations of hydroxo-cbl resulted in significant increases of both methionine and serine formation. Taken together these findings provide clear evidence for the existence of the formate to serine pathway described by W. B. Strong and V. Schirch in cultured fibroblasts and indicate that disturbed MS function due to a specific genetic disorder is associated with reduced serine formation in vitro, which reflects availability of reduced folate coenzymes. The correction of this defect by vitamin B12 alone, in cblC/D mutant cell lines, correlates well with the clinical response in the patients and fits in well with the idea that reduced availability of folate coenzymes occurs in functional MS deficiency, in agreement with the methyl trap hypothesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate-Homocysteine S-Methyltransferase / deficiency
  • Amino Acid Metabolism, Inborn Errors / genetics
  • Amino Acid Metabolism, Inborn Errors / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Glycine Hydroxymethyltransferase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Methionine / biosynthesis*
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (NADPH2)
  • Mutation
  • Oxidoreductases Acting on CH-NH Group Donors / deficiency
  • Oxidoreductases Acting on CH-NH Group Donors / metabolism*
  • Proteins / isolation & purification
  • Serine / biosynthesis*
  • Skin / cytology
  • Skin / metabolism


  • Proteins
  • Serine
  • Methionine
  • Oxidoreductases Acting on CH-NH Group Donors
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (NADPH2)
  • 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate-Homocysteine S-Methyltransferase
  • Glycine Hydroxymethyltransferase