Showing posts with label homocysteine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label homocysteine. Show all posts

Vitamin U is metabolized by the enzyme BHMT2

Summary - BHMT2 is the enzyme that catalyzes the assimilation of Vitamin U into our body. Made at high levels in the liver and kidneys, BHMT2 catalyzes the transfer of a methyl group from Vitamin U to homocysteine. This reaction plays an important role in the maintenance of healthy glutathione levels by contributing to an optimal methylation state, which drives existing and newly-formed homocysteine into the transsulfuration pathway and towards glutathione synthesis.

Vitamin U is a nutrient that is ubiquitous and abundant in vegetables and fruit. It is a noted dietary mucin secretagogue that has been shown to play an important role in healing and preventing peptic ulcers. It appears that Vitamin U interacts directly with the cells lining the stomach and induces secretion through a non-receptor mediated mechanism, different to that used by other secretagogues (more). 

Vitamin U doesn't just interact with the stomach. In fact, much of Vitamin U is absorbed by the small intestine and taken to the liver where it is metabolized. It is assimilated into our body via the methionine cycle (more). The enzyme that is responsible for Vitamin U assimilation is BHMT2 (Betaine Homocysteine Methyl Transferase 2). BHMT2 catalyzes the transfer of a methyl group from Vitamin U to homocysteine to produce two molecules of methionine. These products enter the methionine cycle where they donate methyl groups to form the universal methyl donor SAM and eventually are converted back into homocysteine. The fate of homocysteine is determined by the methylation status in the cell. A low SAM:SAH ratio results in homocysteine awaiting the appearance of new methyl donors in the form of Vitamin U, betaine and methyl folate for reentry into the methionine cycle. A high SAM:SAH ratio results in homocysteine entering the transsulfuration pathway, eventually forming cysteine and glutathione.

BHMT2 is well-expressed in the liver and kidneys (top 5% of proteins in these organs by abundance) (more) and is expressed at low levels in many other tissues throughout our body (more). 

High expression kidney, liver

Moderate expression thyroid, adrenal, pancreas, gallbladder, ovaries, rectum

Low expression nasopharynx, bronchus, stomach, duodenum, small intestine, colon, testis, epididymis, prostate, endometrium, fallopian tubes, heart muscle, skeletal muscle


BHMT2 is expressed at low, but measurable levels in the gastric glands. Not expressed in the gastric pits or muscle layer (more). 

BHMT2 is expressed at moderate levels in the thyroid gland (more).

BHMT2 is expressed at moderate levels in the mucosa lining the gallbladder (more).

BHMT2 is expressed at high levels in the renal tubules, but not in the renal glomeruli (more).

BHMT2 is expressed at high levels in hepatocytes, but not in bile duct cells (more).

To what extent these antibody stains indicate function of BHMT2 remains an open question. If the low expression of BHMT2 in the stomach is actually responsible for the protection afforded by Vitamin U, then the similar levels of expression in other tissues may indicate that Vitamin U has a physiological function in those tissues too. However, this remains to be scientifically investigated and does not constitute medical advice.

How was BHMT2 discovered?

Around 1940, scientists at the Lankenau Hospital Research Institute in Philadelphia were investigating the effects of oxidation on the uptake and metabolism of proteins. Gerrit Toennies was a chemist focusing on making forms of methionine and cysteine that had undergone oxidation to varying degrees. Mary Bennett fed these oxidized amino acids to rats to further our understanding of how animals use sulfur amino acids. They found that when the milk protein casein was chemically oxidized, it was no longer a viable source of protein for rats. Most proteins are made up of 20 types of amino acids. The scientists discovered that methionine and tryptophan were the two types of amino acid that were irreversibly oxidized (more).

During these studies, Toennies made a methionine derivative that was a little different. By reacting methionine with methyl iodide, methionine was methylated at the sulfur again, converting the sulfur into a sulfonium. Bennett fed this methionine sulfonium to rats in place of methionine. For 5 days, the rats did not grow. On the 6th day, the rats suddenly started growing at the same rate as the control rats being fed methionine (more).

What happened to the rats? Bennett suggested that the rats "may have developed a special mechanism for taking care of the extra methyl group" that allowed the sulfonium to be converted into methionine. This special mechanism was probably an enzyme that at that time had yet to be discovered. In 1959, Shapiro and Yphantis revealed that the liver expresses an enzyme that converts Vitamin U into methionine by methyl transfer to homocysteine (more). The gene encoding this activity was characterized in 2000 by Chadwick and named BHMT2 due to its resemblance to another liver enzyme BHMT1 (more). It was shown by the Garrow lab in 2008 that purified BHMT2 enzyme catalyzed the reaction between Vitamin U and homocysteine (more). 

It was hypothesized by Toennies that sulfoniums could have a biological role and it was speculated that methylmethionine sulfonium could exist naturally. In 1954, this hypothesis was confirmed by McRorie and others, extracting this compound from cabbage. Interestingly, the latter linked the chemical properties of their newly-discovered compound with those of a recently-discovered Vitamin U, and proposed that this compound was a source of methionine as well as a methyl donor (more). 

Does expression of BHMT2 depend on the presence of Vitamin U? From the studies of Bennett, it would seem that a lack of methionine might induce BHMT2 expression in rats rather than the presence of Vitamin U. For comparison, expression of the related enzyme BHMT1 in rat liver is induced 4-fold when methionine levels are low/choline normal and an additional 2-fold in the presence of betaine (more). However, not much research has gone into addressing BHMT2 expression, especially in humans. 

The methionine cycle and Vitamin U

Summary - The methionine cycle is a multistep enzymatic process than enables Vitamin U to be used as a source of methyl groups vital for gene regulation and the regeneration of creatine/ATP in muscles, as well as its use as a precursor of glutathione required to fight oxidative stress and inflammation.

This is a simple depiction of the four-step methionine cycle in our body. In the first step, the adenosyl group of ATP is transferred to methionine to form S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), thereby activating the methyl group of methionine. In the second step, SAM donates its methyl group to a range of acceptor molecules (notably DNA, guanidinoacetate, and phosphatidylethanolamines), also yielding S-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH). In the third step, the adenosyl group SAH is removed by hydrolysis leaving homocysteine. In the fourth step, homocysteine is either remethylated using one of three methyl donors to reform methionine (step 4a) or is directed into the transsulfuration pathway to form cystathionine (step 4b).

The methionine cycle has a myriad of functions including -

1. The generation of methylation capacity, 
2. The biosynthesis of cysteine as a component of proteins and glutathione, and as a precursor to taurine and hydrogen sulfide, 
3. The biosynthesis of polyamines from SAM. 

The most important function of the methionine cycle is to generate methylation capacity. A measure of our body's methylation capacity is the SAM:SAH ratio, i.e. the relative amounts of the two intermediates. If this ratio is low (below 4), the first enzyme in transsulfuration (cystathionine beta synthase) will have low activity and homocysteine will be remethylated to reenter the methionine cycle (step 4a). This tendency will continue until the ratio is above 4, at which point the relatively high concentration of SAM activates cystathionine beta synthase (CBS) resulting in excess homocysteine being funneled into the transsulfuration pathway. 

Another important function of the methionine cycle is the biosynthesis of cysteine via transsulfuration. Transsulfuration adds cysteine to that obtained from our diet as a component of protein (~50%). Cysteine is used as a building block in human proteins, is the catalytic center of the master antioxidant glutathione as well as acting as a precursor to molecules such as taurine and hydrogen sulfide. Increased oxidative stress will result in activation of CBS activity via allosteric binding by glutathione and transcriptional upregulation by hydrogen sulfide, nitric oxide and carbon monoxide. However, despite the negative health effects of high homocysteine levels (associated with cardiovascular disease) and low glutathione levels (associated with inflammation), the maintenance of methylation capacity trumps that of the provision of transsulfuration products.

The most common cause of a low SAM:SAH is a shortfall in the supply of dietary methyl donors. Other causes of low flux include shortages in vitamins that help catalyze reactions (e.g, folate, B12, B6), mutations in genes that encode enzymes involved in catalysis (e.g. MTHFR, CBS), and very low calorie diets.

There are several nutrients that can contribute methyl groups to the methionine cycle. Aside from methionine, which enters the methionine cycle directly, the other dietary methyl donors enter the methionine cycle via methylation of homocysteine. There are three enzymes known to catalyze this reaction in humans, with each enzyme acting upon a single methyl donor molecule. Other molecules that can contribute methyl groups must do so indirectly. Consequently, the three classes of dietary methyl donor are characterized by the enzyme that catalyzes the reaction with homocysteine and its substrate -

1. Betaine:homocysteine methyltransferase 1 (BHMT1) and betaine (trimethylglycine or TMG)
2. Methionine synthase (MS) and folate (5'-methyltetrahydrofolate or MTHF)
3. Betaine:homocysteine methyltransferase 2 (BHMT2) and Vitamin U (S-methylmethionine)

Betaine (trimethyl glycine) has three methyl groups, one of which is transferred to homocysteine to form methionine and dimethyl glycine. The other two methyl groups contribute to methylation, though via assimilation through the folate cycle. Dimethyl glycine dehydrogenase catalyzes the transfer of a methyl group from dimethyl glycine to tetrahydrofolate to produce 5, 10-methylenetetrahydrofolate. The other product, methyl glycine (sarcosine) yields the last methyl group to tetrahydrofolate in a similar reaction catalyzed by the homologue sarcosine dehydrogenase.

Betaine is plentiful in whole grains, with the notable exception of rice (betaine is an osmoprotectant in plants and it appears that under the wet conditions in which rice is usually grown betaine formation is suppressed). Betaine is also produced in our body from choline, which is abundant in the fatty component of food as phosphatidylcholine. Consequently, food with more naturally occurring fat such as meat, eggs, dairy and nuts are the richest sources of choline, with produce and grains contributing a lesser amount.

The active form of folate (Vitamin B9) is 5'-methyltetrahydrofolate, which supplies a methyl group to homocysteine to yield methionine and tetrahydrofolate. Once folate has donated its methyl group, it must be remethylated in the folate cycle to be reused. The primary source of these methyl groups is serine. Contrary to popular belief, folate itself is a minor dietary source of methyl groups. Even taking supplements labelled "methyl folate" or "activated folate" or eating green leafy vegetables provides minimal extra methylation substrate. With regards to its role in methylation, folate is better thought of as a carrier molecule analagous to homocysteine rather than as a methyl source.

Most methionine in our diet is found as a component of protein, which requires extensive digestion by a slew of enzymes to release methionine as an amino acid before it can enter the methionine cycle. Vitamin U (S-methylmethionine) is methionine with an extra methyl group, although unlike methionine, Vitamin U is rarely a component of proteins. It supplies a methyl group to homocysteine yielding two molecules of methionine. Vitamin U is abundant in vegetables and fruits, especially cruciferous (e.g. cabbage, kale) and stalky (e.g. celery, asparagus) vegetables.

The degree to which these methyl donors contribute to the methionine cycle is dependent upon our diet. In a diet rich in protein and fats, methionine and choline will be major sources. In a diet in which more calories are gleaned from whole grains, betaine will make a greater contribution. Folate and Vitamin U will make larger contributions in diets rich in fresh produce.