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BACKGROUND: Severe childhood malnutrition (SCM) occurs as both oedematous and non-oedematous syndromes. The reasons why some children develop oedematous SCM (OSCM) have remained elusive but differences in clinical presentation among malnourished children from similar backgrounds suggests that there might be inter-individual variation in susceptibility to OSCM. AIM: To estimate the strength of the association between variants of three genes involved in folate/methyl group metabolism [methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), methionine synthase (MTR) and cystathionine beta-synthase (CBS)] and risk of OSCM. METHODS: Patients previously admitted to the Tropical Metabolism Research Unit (TMRU) for treatment of either OSCM (cases, n = 74) or non-oedematous SCM (NOSCM, controls, n = 50) were recruited. Genotypes at four sites within the three genes (MTHFR C677T, MTHFR A1298C, MTR A2756G and CBS 844ins68) were determined using PCR-based assays. RESULTS: The MTHFR 677T [odds ratio (OR) 0.63, 95% CI 0.2-1.7] and MTR 2756G (OR 0.74, 95% CI 0.4-1.4) alleles were associated with moderate reduction in risk of OSCM whereas the CBS 844ins68 allele (OR 1.4, 0.7-2.4) was associated with an increased risk. None of these risks was significant at the 5% level. CONCLUSIONS: Genetic variation within folate/methyl group metabolic pathways might have a small but potentially important influence on risk of OSCM. Additional, larger data-sets will be required to test the specific hypotheses (about the putative effect size and direction of association) generated in this preliminary study. Such observations have the potential to improve our understanding of the pathogenesis of clinical heterogeneity in severe malnutrition.

Original publication




Journal article


Ann Trop Paediatr

Publication Date





107 - 114


5-Methyltetrahydrofolate-Homocysteine S-Methyltransferase, Case-Control Studies, Child, Child, Preschool, Cystathionine beta-Synthase, Edema, Female, Folic Acid, Genetic Predisposition to Disease, Genotype, Humans, Male, Malnutrition, Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (NADPH2), Odds Ratio, Polymorphism, Genetic