MMA is primarily requested, sometimes along with homocysteine, to help diagnose B12 deficiency when results of vitamin B12 analysis are equivacol (they neither rule in or rule out deficiency).
Vitamin B12 analysis is available routinely and in the majority of cases the vitamin B12 test will be sufficient to assess for deficiency. However, MMA should be measured in cases where there is a high suspicion of vitamin B12 deficiency yet the vitamin B12 result is equivocal. It is important to detect vitamin B12 deficiency as it can cause a decrease in the number of red blood cells (anaemia) and changes to bone marrow function. It can also cause signs and symptoms of disease, inflammation or damage to the peripheral nerves (neuropathy), such as numbness and tingling in the hands and feet and/or mental or behavioural changes (confusion, irritability, depression).
Some researchers have suggested using MMA as a screening tool especially among the elderly who frequently have vitamin B12 deficiencies and may have few recognisable symptoms. However, this use is still controversial in the medical community and only a few doctors are using MMA for this purpose.
Occasionally, specialised MMA testing may be requested to help diagnose methylmalonic acidaemias, a rare inherited metabolic disorder that occurs in about 1 in 50,000 to 100,000 people. Babies with this disease are unable to convert methylmalonyl CoA to succinyl CoA. They appear normal at birth but as they ingest protein, they begin to show symptoms such as seizures, failure to thrive, mental retardation, strokes, and severe metabolic acidosis. Often the presence of methylmalonic acid will be assessed as part of a wider screen for inherited metabolic disorders.
Methylmalonic acid is not requested frequently. Until there are more data supporting its use and consensus on its clinical utility and long-term benefits, it will probably not be routinely used by doctors.
However, MMA may be requested, sometimes along with a homocysteine test, when a vitamin B12 test result is equivacol but there is a high suspicion of vitamin B12 deficiency in a patient. An MMA test also may be requested as a follow-up to an elevated homocysteine result if the two tests are not requested together. An MMA test also may be requested as a follow-up to an elevated homocysteine result if the two tests are not requested together.
Occasionally, specialised MMA testing may be requested when a doctor suspects that an acutely ill infant may have inherited methylmalonic acidaemia.
If MMA and homocysteine levels are increased and B12 concentrations are mildly decreased, then an early or mild B12 deficiency may be present. This may indicate a decrease in available B12 at the tissue level. (If only homocysteine levels are elevated, then folate concentrations should be checked). If MMA and homocysteine levels are normal, it is unlikely that there is a B12 deficiency.
Since the test for MMA is usually requested to detect elevated levels in suspected cases of B12 deficiency, decreased levels of MMA are not clinically significant.
Blood MMA levels also can be increased with kidney disease, which results in decreased MMA excretion in the urine, so MMA accumulates in the blood.
Moderately to severely elevated levels of MMA may be seen in infants with the rare inherited disease methylmalonic acidaemia.
An elevated MMA test may indicate a B12 deficiency, but the amount of MMA measured does not necessarily reflect the severity of the deficiency, its likelihood of progressing, or the presence or severity of any symptoms.
Some studies have found a high variation in MMA levels when they are measured over time.
This article was last reviewed on 9 February 2016. | This article was last modified on 9 February 2017.
The review date indicates when the article was last reviewed from beginning to end to ensure that it reflects the most current science. A review may not require any modifications to the article, so the two dates may not always agree.
The modified date indicates that one or more changes were made to the article. Such changes may or may not result from a full review of the article, so the two dates may not always agree.