MTR (methionine synthase) and MTRR (methionine synthase reductase) are two genes involved in the conversion of homocysteine to methionine, and a couple of fairly common gene variants cause the genes to work differently.
Why is this something to care about?
Methionine is an essential amino acid, used in the production of proteins; it is literally the starting amino acid in the code for every protein your body makes.
MTR (methionine synthase) and MTRR (methionine synthase reductase) code for enzymes work together in the methylation cycle. MTR works in the final step to regenerate homocysteine into methionine using methylcobalamin (methyl-B12), and MTRR regenerates the methylcobalamin for MTR to use. [ref] Both are a vital part of the methylation cycle.
The methylation cycle gets a bit complicated. Basically, it is your body’s way of cycling certain molecules to ensure that there are enough methyl groups (CH3) available for cellular processes. Methyl groups are used in a bunch of ways.[ref] Examples of methylation reactions include:
- synthesis of some of the nucleic acid (DNA) bases
- turning off genes so that they aren’t transcribed
- converting serotonin into melatonin
- methylating arsenic so that it can be excreted
- regenerating methionine from homocysteine
Goldilocks comes to mind here… You want to have the ‘just right’ amount of methylation reactions going on, and your body works to keep this all in balance. For example, you need enough folate and methylcobalamin for the methionine synthase reaction to occur. Methylfolate is the source of the methyl group that methionine synthase uses for converting homocysteine to methionine. Not enough B12 or methylfolate? MTR won’t convert as much homocysteine to methionine, leading to a buildup of homocysteine and a limit on methionine.
Too much homocysteine is associated with an increase in the risk for heart disease.[ref]
The other side of the picture, though, is that there may be times that limiting methionine is helpful, such as in fighting the proliferation of cancer cells. Methotrexate, a chemotherapy drug, works by inhibiting the production of methylfolate, thus limiting methionine and DNA synthesis for cell growth.
The Genetics Home Reference sums it up this way: “The MTR gene provides instructions for making an enzyme called methionine synthase. This enzyme plays a role in processing amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Specifically, methionine synthase carries out a chemical reaction that converts the amino acid homocysteine to another amino acid called methionine. The body uses methionine to make proteins and other important compounds. To function properly, methionine synthase requires methylcobalamin (a form of vitamin B12) and another enzyme called methionine synthase reductase, which is produced from the MTRR gene.”
MTR Genetic Variants:
Check your 23andMe results for rs1805087 (v4, v5):
- A/A: normal (wildtype)
- A/G: increased enzyme activity
- G/G: increased enzyme activity
The rs1805087 variant is also known as A2756G. The G allele causes an increase in activity, thus possibly causing a decrease in methyl groups available for other pathways to use and also using up methylB12 more quickly than normal. [ref]
MTR uses methylcobalamin (methyl-B12) and zinc in the reaction of converting homocysteine to methionine. Thus, an increase in enzyme activity can keep homocysteine levels lower (generally a good thing), but only if there is plentiful methylcobalamin. So people with this variant should ensure that they are getting methyl-B12 and zinc, either through diet or supplements.
Other studies on this variant:
- A meta-analysis of several studies concluded that the G allele of rs1805087 is associated with a slightly increased risk of prostate cancer. [ref]
- A 2015 study showed that rs1805087 is a risk factor for mild cognitive impairment (Chinese study). The study notes that high homocysteine levels are a risk factor for the decline in cognitive function in the elderly. [ref]
- A 2015 study found that adhering to the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of breast cancer for those with the MTR polymorphism. [ref]
- Quite a few recent studies found no association between the MTR polymorphism and cancer risks, so diet and lifestyle choices play a role.
- A 2013 study showed that rs1805087 increased the severity of symptoms in schizophrenia. [ref]
- A small Iranian study found that the MTR A2756G variant was linked to a slightly higher risk of autism.
MTRR Genetic Variants:
Check your 23andMe results for rs1801394 A66G(v4, v5):
- A/A: normal (wildtype)
- A/G: somewhat decreased enzyme efficiency
- G/G: decreased enzyme efficiency
Methionine synthase reductase has several fairly common variants that affect the production of the MTRR enzyme which regenerates vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin) for use by MTR and other enzymes. The variant rs1801394 is also known as A66G, and it decreases this enzyme’s efficiency. It is a fairly common variant which is carried by about half the population. It seems that combinations of MTRR polymorphisms with MTHFR or other methylation cycle issues may be more of a concern than just carrying the single MTRR variant.
- A 2011 study showed an increased risk for colorectal cancer (OR = 1.39) for those with rs1801394 G/G. [ref]
- A 2014 study showed an increased risk for metabolic syndrome for those with the A66G polymorphisms and MTHFR C677T. [ref]
- A 2014 meta-analysis showed an increased risk for congenital heart disease associated with A66G polymorphism. [ref]
Folate and B12: A healthy diet high in folate and B12 seems to be essential for overcoming any deficits created by these two polymorphisms. Foods high in folate include leafy greens, chicken liver, beef liver, asparagus, broccoli, and legumes. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products with liver being an excellent source.
If you have the MTRR polymorphisms and are considering supplementing with B-12, you should first read the article on COMT. There are four different types of B-12, and some work better than others, depending on your COMT variants.
If you are looking for an adenosylcobalamin and hydroxocobalamin sublingual supplement, I like the Seeking Health brand combo Hydrox-Adeno. There are many good sources of methylcobalamin, and you may be able to find it at your local health food store as well.
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