Lurie Center for Autism: Dimethylglycine (DMG)

Dimethylglycine (DMG) is sometimes discussed as a Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Lurie Center clinicians summarize current research on DMG.

Dimethylglycine (DMG) contains glycine, an amino acid that acts as a minor inhibitory (calming)
neurotransmitter in the brainstem and spinal cord. DMG appeared as a supplement in the 1960s
under the names vitamin B15, pangamic acid and calcium pangamate. DMG-containing calcium
pangamate was popular with Russian athletes and cosmonauts because it was supposed to
enhance the use of oxygen in cells, reduce fatigue and enhance physical stamina. It was later
given to Russian children with developmental disabilities, resulting in unsubstantiated reports of
improvements in communication (this is most likely the source for interest in DMG for autism).
However, none of these claims were ever proven.

 

DMG can be obtained from digestion of certain foods such as beans, liver and cereals, and itself
is formed naturally in the body when a carbon-containing (methyl) group from trimethylglycine
(TMG) is transferred to a molecule called homocysteine to form another substance, methionine.
This reaction allows methyl groups to be available for “methylation” pathways that eventually help
maintain cell membranes, facilitate growth and turn genes on and off, including those for
detoxification. Supplying extra DMG, however, does not directly influence “methylation pathways”.

The only double-blind placebo-controlled study of DMG using the high doses suggested by the
Autism Research Institute was published in 2001 and showed no effect1.

The diagram below illustrates the formation of DMG from TMG. TMG donates a methyl group to
homocysteine, forming methionine. BHMT = betaine homocysteine methyltransferase (an
enzyme)

 

Illustration of formation of dimethylglycine (DMG)

 


1. Kern JK, Miller VS, Cauller PL, Kendall PR, Mehta PJ, Dodd M. 2001. Effectiveness of N,
N-dimethylglycine in autism and pervasive developmental disorder. J Child Neurol.
16:169-173.
2. Lever M, Slow S. 2010. The clinical significance of betaine, an osmolyte with a key role in
methyl group metabolism. Clin Biochem. 43:732-744.

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