Biochemistry and pharmacology of S-adenosyl-L-methionine and rationale for its use in liver disease.


Chawla RK, Bonkovsky HL, Galambos JT






The major biological functions of S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe) include methylation of various molecules (transmethylation) and synthesis of cysteine (trans-sulphuration). A stable double salt of SAMe has been found to be effective in intrahepatic cholestasis. The mechanism of its therapeutic effect is not fully understood but presumably involves methylation of phospholipids. Methylation of plasma membrane lipids may affect membrane fluidity and viscosity, which modulate the activities of a number of membrane-associated enzymes, for example, the activity of enzymes involved in Na+/Ca++ exchange (e.g. sarcolemmal vesicles), Na+/K+ adenosine triphosphatase (ATPase) [e.g. hepatocyte plasma membranes], and Na+/H+ exchange (e.g. plasma membranes of colonic cells). Recently, patients with cirrhosis were shown to have an acquired metabolic block in the hepatic conversion of methionine to SAMe. These patients, when administered conventional elemental diets, develop abnormally low plasma concentrations of cysteine and choline, 2 nonessential nutrients present in low concentrations in most elemental diets. These low concentrations probably reflect systemic deficiencies attributable to reduced endogenous syntheses of cysteine and choline caused by limited availability of hepatic SAMe. Such cirrhotic patients are often in negative nitrogen balance and have abnormal hepatic functions, which are corrected by cysteine and choline supplements. Noncirrhotic patients on parenteral elemental diets also become deficient in cysteine and choline. Consequently, these patients may require SAMe as an essential nutrient to normalise their overall hepatic transmethylation and trans-sulphuration activities.