Homocysteine and coronary artery disease

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Homocystinuria is a rare autosomal recessive disease complicated by early and aggressive occlusive arterial disease. This may be related to the grossly increased homocysteine concentrations seen in this disease. More recently, milder hyperhomocysteinemia has been proposed as an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease.


Many patients with homozygous homocystinuria develop severe premature atherosclerosis and thromboembolism, probably caused by abnormally high concentrations of homocysteine. Homocysteine undergoes metabolism either by remethylation or transsulfuration, and deficiency or dysfunction of any of the substances that regulate these reactions may lead to hyperhomocysteinemia. Homocysteine may have adverse effects on platelets, clotting factors, and endothelial cells. Studies have demonstrated significantly higher plasma homocysteine levels in patients with occlusive arterial disease than in controls. The causes are not clearly understood but may include deficiency of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid and heterozygosity for cystathionine synthase deficiency. Vitamin supplementation can lower plasma homocysteine levels.


Whether measuring plasma homocysteine levels in patients with coronary artery disease should be routine and whether treating hyperhomocysteinemia in these patients may reduce the risk of coronary events remains to be determined.


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