The human serum metabolome of vitamin B-12 deficiency and repletion, and associations with neurological function in elderly adults

Alex Brito, Dmitry Grapov, Johannes Fahrmann, Danielle Harvey, Ralph Green, Joshua W. Miller, Sergey N. Fedosov, Setareh Shahab-Ferdows, Daniela Hampel, Theresa L. Pedersen, Oliver Fiehn, John W. Newman, Ricardo Uauy, Lindsay H. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: The specific metabolomic perturbations that occur in vitamin B-12 deficiency, and their associations with neurological function, are not well characterized. Objective: We sought to characterize the human serum metabolome in subclinical vitamin B-12 deficiency and repletion. Methods: A before-and-after treatment study provided 1 injection of 10 mg vitamin B-12 (with 100mg pyridoxine and 100mg thiamin) to 27 community-dwelling elderly Chileans (74 y old) with vitamin B-12 deficiency, as evaluated with serum vitamin B-12, total plasma homocysteine (tHcy), methylmalonic acid (MMA), and holotranscobalamin. The combined indicator of vitamin B-12 status (cB-12) was computed. Targeted metabolites [166 acylcarnitines, amino acids, sugars, glycerophospholipids, and sphingolipids (liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry)], and untargeted metabolites [247 chemical entities (gas chromatography time-of-flight mass spectrometry)] were measured at baseline and 4 mo after treatment. A peripheral nerve score was developed. Differences before and after treatment were examined. For targeted metabolomics, the data from 18 individuals with adequate vitamin B-12 status (selected from the same population) were added to the beforeand- after treatment data set. Network visualizations and metabolic pathways are illustrated. Results: The injection increased serum vitamin B-12, holotranscobalamin, and cB-12 (P < 0.001), and reduced tHcy and serum MMA (P < 0.001). Metabolomic changes from before to after treatment included increases (P < 0.001) in acylcarnitines, plasmalogens, and other phospholipids, whereas proline and other intermediaries of one-carbon metabolism-that is, methionine and cysteine-were reduced (P < 0.001). Direct significant correlations (P < 0.05 after the false discovery rate procedure) were identified between acylcarnitines, plasmalogens, phospholipids, lyso-phospholipids, and sphingomyelins compared with vitamin B-12 status and nerve function.Multiple connectionswere identified with primarymetabolites (e.g., an inverse relation between vitamin B-12 markers and tryptophan, tyrosine, and pyruvic, succinic, and citric acids, and a direct correlation between the nerve score and arginine). Conclusions: The human serum metabolome in vitamin B-12 deficiency and the changes that occur after supplementation are characterized. Metabolomics revealed connections between vitamin B-12 status and serum metabolic markers of mitochondrial function, myelin integrity, oxidative stress, and peripheral nerve function, including some previously implicated in Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases. This trial was registered at as ISRCTN02694183.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1839-1849
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017


  • Acylcarnitines
  • Metabolomics
  • Nerve function
  • Omics
  • Plasmalogens
  • Vitamin B-12

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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