Post- and prenatal diagnostic methods for the homocystinurias
Diagnosis of the homozygous homocystinurias can be performed by investigations at the metabolite, enzyme and DNA level. The existence of variant forms due to the wide range of genetic variation may result in only small differences in various parameters between controls and affected subjects.
1. Sulphur amino acid concentrations in plasma, especially total homocysteine, are useful in first line diagnostic investigations.
2. Cystathionine-β-synthase (CBS), methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) and methylfolate homocysteine methyltransferase (MFMT) can be directly assayed in many tissues including fibroblasts (each) and blood cells (except CBS). Indirect whole cell assays which measure pathway activity dependent on a particular enzyme can provide useful diagnostic information.
3. Direct analysis of mutations is available for CBS, MTHFR and recently also for MFMT deficiencies. However the existence of a larger number of very rare, often private, mutations limits the usefulness of this approach in routine diagnosis.
The above diagnostic approaches can generally be applied to prenatal diagnosis. Measurement of methylmalonic acid and other metabolites in amniotic fluid by stable isotope dilution / gas chromatography-mass spectrometry is well established for the methylmalonic acidurias. This method has also been applied to combined homocystinuria/methylmalonic aciduria supported by enzyme assays in cultured cells. Total homocysteine measurement in cell free amniotic fluid is also possible, performed so far in 14 cases with two affected fetuses. The indirect assay of methionine formation from [14C] labelled formate in intact cultured amniotic fluid cells has been for prenatal diagnosis of the remethylation defects.