Vitamin B12 in neurology and ageing; clinical and genetic aspects.
The classic neurological and psychiatric features associated with vitamin B12 deficiency have been well described and are the subject of many excellent review articles. The advent of sensitive diagnostic tests, including homocysteine and methylmalonic acid assays, has revealed a surprisingly high prevalence of a more subtle 'subclinical' form of B12 deficiency, particularly within the elderly. This is often associated with cognitive impairment and dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. Metabolic evidence of B12 deficiency is also reported in association with other neurodegenerative disorders including vascular dementia, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. These conditions are all associated with chronic neuro-inflammation and oxidative stress. It is possible that these clinical associations reflect compromised vitamin B12 metabolism due to such stress. Physicians are also increasingly aware of considerable inter-individual variation in the clinical response to B12 replacement therapy. Further research is needed to determine to what extent this is attributable to genetic determinants of vitamin B12 absorption, distribution and cellular uptake.