glutamate form by γ-glutamylhydrolase. Folates must be reduced enzymatically and resynthesized to the polyglutamate form to function in single-carbon transfer reactions.
The metabolic interrelationship between folate and vitamin B12 may explain why a single deficiency of either vitamin leads to the same hematological changes. Both folate and vitamin B12 are required for the formation of 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate and involved in thymidylate synthesis by way of a vitamin B12-containing enzyme. The formation of 5,10-methylene tetrahydrofolate depends on the regeneration of the parent compound (tetrahydrofolate) in the homocysteine-to-methionine conversion. This reaction involves the removal of a methyl group from methyl folate and the delivery of this group to homocysteine for the synthesis of methionine. Folate is involved as a substrate (5-methyl-tetrahydrofolate) and vitamin B12 as a coenzyme. The 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate delivers its methyl group to deoxyuridylate to convert it to thymidylate for incorporation into DNA. In either a folate or vitamin B12 deficiency, the megaloblastic changes occurring in the bone marrow and other replicating cells result from lack of adequate 5,10-methylene-tetrahydrofolate.
The major route of whole-body folate turnover appears to be via catabolism to cleavage products. The initial step in folate catabolism involves the cleavage of intracellular folylpolyglutmate at the C9-N10 bond, and the resulting p-aminobenzoylpolyglutamates are hydrolyzed to the monoglutamate, which is N-acetylated before excretion.
Folate freely enters the glomerulus and is reabsorbed in the proximal renal tubule. The net effect is that most of the secreted folate is reabsorbed. The bulk of the excretion products in humans are folate cleavage products. Intact urinary folate represents only a very small percentage of dietary folate. Biliary excretion of folate has been estimated to be as high as 100 µg/day (Herbert and Das, 1993; Whitehead, 1986); however, much of this is reabsorbed by the small intestine (Weir et al., 1985). Fecal folate losses occur, but it is difficult to distinguish actual losses from losses of folate synthesized by the intestinal microflora (Krumdieck et al., 1978).
Inadequate folate intake first leads to a decrease in serum folate concentration, then to a decrease in erythrocyte folate concentration, a rise in homocysteine concentration, and megaloblastic changes in the bone marrow and other tissues with rapidly dividing cells.