The metabolism of the methyl group of 5-methyltetrahydrofolate was studied in rats in which cobalamin had been inactivated by exposure to nitrous oxide and in air-breathing control animals. Methylfolate labeled with [14C] in the methyl group and with [3H] in the pteridine- PABA portion was injected and the disappearance of [14C]H3- relative to [3H]folate was measured in liver. The half-time of the methyl group in the livers of control rats was two hours. There was no turnover of the methyl group for the first 72 hours after cobalamin inactivation. After 72 hours, there was a slow turnover of the methyl group, with a half- time of 43 hours. In control rats, it is assumed that the methyl group was metabolized by transfer to homocysteine to form methionine. In cobalamin-inactivated rats, it was shown that methylfolate was used as the substrate for forming folate polyglutamate, and analogues with 3, 4, and 5 glutamic acid residues were present. It is likely that oxidation of the methyl group by methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase occurs from folate polyglutamate containing six and seven glutamic acid residues, (Brody et al, Biochemistry 21: 276, 1982), since we were unable to demonstrate labeled methyl in longer chain analogues.

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