Addiction research focusing on homocysteine metabolism and its association with aspects of alcohol dependence has revealed important findings. Recent literature on this topic has been taken into account for the review provided. Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) is a key enzyme in the homocysteine metabolism. Plasma homocysteine levels are influenced by the single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) MTHFR C677T. Besides genetic factors, environmental factors have an impact on homocysteine plasma levels too. Thus, chronic alcohol intake is associated with elevated homocysteine plasma concentrations. Elevation of plasma homocysteine concentration is considered as a predictor for the occurrence of alcohol withdrawal seizures and - as homocysteine is a cardiovascular risk factor – might contribute to the higher risk for myocardial infarction among alcohol dependent patients. Homocysteine acts as an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor agonist and has excitotoxic effects. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that homocysteine has neurotoxic effects especially on dopaminergic neurons. As the rewarding effects of alcohol are mediated by the dopaminergic system, a homocysteine-dependent impairment of the reward system possibly leads to an altered drinking behaviour according to the deficit hypothesis of addiction. Homocysteine is involved in the metabolism of methyl groups and DNA-methylation plays a role in regulation of gene expression. Therefore it has been suggested that homocysteine is an important epigenetic factor. It remains to be determined whether alcohol dependent patients benefit from homocysteine lowering strategies, e.g., via supplementation of folate, vitamin B6 and B12. In this respect it is not clear yet, if a supplementation therapy can reduce the risk for the occurrence of alcohol withdrawal seizures.
Keywords: Homocysteine, folate, alcohol, MTHFR, polymorphism, dopaminergic reward system, epigenetics, gene expression
Rights & PermissionsPrintExport