, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 3-15
Date: 06 May 2010

Choline and betaine in health and disease

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Abstract

Choline is an essential nutrient, but is also formed by de novo synthesis. Choline and its derivatives serve as components of structural lipoproteins, blood and membrane lipids, and as a precursor of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Pre-and postnatal choline availability is important for neurodevelopment in rodents. Choline is oxidized to betaine that serves as an osmoregulator and is a substrate in the betaine–homocysteine methyltransferase reaction, which links choline and betaine to the folate-dependent one-carbon metabolism. Choline and betaine are important sources of one-carbon units, in particular, during folate deficiency. Choline or betaine supplementation in humans reduces concentration of total homocysteine (tHcy), and plasma betaine is a strong predictor of plasma tHcy in individuals with low plasma concentration of folate and other B vitamins (B2, B6, and B12) in combination TT genotype of the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase 677 C->T polymorphism. The link to one-carbon metabolism and the recent availability of food composition data have motivated studies on choline and betaine as risk factors of chronic diseases previously studied in relation to folate and homocysteine status. High intake and plasma level of choline in the mother seems to afford reduced risk of neural tube defects. Intake of choline and betaine shows no consistent relation to cancer or cardiovascular risk or risk factors, whereas an unfavorable cardiovascular risk factor profile was associated with high choline and low betaine concentrations in plasma. Thus, choline and betaine showed opposite relations with key components of metabolic syndrome, suggesting a disruption of mitochondrial choline oxidation to betaine as part of the mitochondrial dysfunction in metabolic syndrome.

Communicated by: Viktor Kozich
Competing interest: None declared.
Presented at the 7th International Conference on Homocysteine Metabolism, Prague, 21–25 June 2009