The 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate (5,10-CH=H4folate) synthetase catalyses the physiologically irreversible formation of 5,10-CH=H4folate from 5-formyltetrahydrofolate (5-HCO-H4folate) and ATP. It is not clear how (or if) 5-HCO-H4folate is formed in vivo. Using a spectrophotometric assay for 5-HCO-H4folate, human recombinant 5,10-CH=H4folate cyclohydrolase, which catalyses the hydrolysis of 5,10-CH=H4folate to 10-HCO-H4folate, was previously shown to catalyse inefficiently the formation of 5-HCO-H4folate at pH 7.3 [Pelletier and MacKenzie (1996) Bioorg. Chem. 24, 220–228]. In the present study, we report that (i) the human cyclohydrolase enzyme catalyses the conversion of 10-HCO-/5,10-CH=H4folate into 5-HCO-H4folate (it is also chemically formed) at pH 4.0–7.0; (ii) rat liver has a very low capacity to catalyse the formation of 5-HCO-H4folate when compared with the traditional activity of 5,10-CH=H4folate cyclohydrolase and the activity of the 5,10-CH=H4folate synthetase; and (iii) a substantial amount of 5-HCO-H4folate reported to be present in rat liver is chemically formed during analytical procedures. We conclude that (i) the cyclohydrolase represents some of the capacity of rat liver to catalyse the formation of 5-HCO-H4folate; (ii) the amount of 5-HCO-H4folate reported to be present in rat liver is overestimated (liver 5-HCO-H4folate content may be negligible); and (iii) there is little evidence that 5-HCO-H4folate inhibits one-carbon metabolism in mammals.

Abbreviations used: 5-HCO-H4folate, 5-formyltetrahydrofolate; 5,10-CH=H4folate, 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate; TCA, trichloroacetic acid.

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