Teng, Y W, et al., Deletion of Betaine-Homocysteine S-Methyltransferase in Mice Perturbs Choline and 1-Carbon Metabolism, Resulting in Fatty Liver and Hepatocelluar Carcinomas. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 2011. 285(42): 36258-36267.
Betaine-homocysteine S-methyltransferase (BHMT) uses betaine to catalyze the conversion of homocysteine (Hcy) to methionine. There are common genetic polymorphisms in the BHMT gene in humans that can alter its enzymatic activity. We generated the first Bhmt(-/-) mouse to model the functional effects of mutations that result in reduced BHMT activity. Deletion of Bhmt resulted in a 6-fold increase (p < 0.01) in hepatic and an 8-fold increase (p < 0.01) in plasma total Hcy concentrations. Deletion of Bhmt resulted in a 43% reduction in hepatic S-adenosylmethionine (AdoMet) (p < 0.01) and a 3-fold increase in hepatic S-adenosylhomocysteine (AdoHcy) (p < 0.01) concentrations, resulting in a 75% reduction in methylation potential (AdoMet:AdoHcy) (p < 0.01). Bhmt(-/-) mice accumulated betaine in most tissues, including a 21-fold increase in the liver concentration compared with wild type (WT) (p < 0.01). These mice had lower concentrations of choline, phosphocholine, glycerophosphocholine, phosphatidylcholine, and sphingomyelin in several tissues. At 5 weeks of age, Bhmt(-/-) mice had 36% lower total hepatic phospholipid concentrations and a 6-fold increase in hepatic triacyglycerol concentrations compared with WT (p < 0.01), which was due to a decrease in the secretion of very low density lipoproteins. At 1 year of age, 64% of Bhmt(-/-) mice had visible hepatic tumors. Histopathological analysis revealed that Bhmt(-/-) mice developed hepatocellular carcinoma or carcinoma precursors. These results indicate that BHMT has an important role in Hcy, choline, and one-carbon homeostasis. A lack of Bhmt also affects susceptibility to fatty liver and hepatocellular carcinoma. We suggest that functional polymorphisms in BHMT that significantly reduce activity may have similar effects in humans.