February 26, 2017
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General Pharmacology And Mechanism Of Action

Vitamin B12 is essential to growth, cell reproduction, hematopoiesis, and nucleoprotein and myelin synthesis. Cells characterized by rapid division (e.g., epithelial cells, bone marrow, myeloid cells) appear to have the greatest requirement for vitamin B12. Vitamin

B12 can be converted to coenzyme B12 in tissues, and as such is essential for conversion of methylmalonate to succinate and synthesis of methionine from homocysteine, a reaction which also requires folate. In the absence of coenzyme B12, tetrahydrofolate cannot be regenerated from its inactive storage form, 5- methyltetrahydrofolate, and a functional folate deficiency occurs. Vitamin B12 also may be involved in maintaining sulfhydryl (SH) groups in the reduced form required by many SH-activated enzyme systems. Through these reactions, vitamin B12 is associated with fat and carbohydrate metabolism and protein synthesis. Vitamin B12 deficiency results in megaloblastic anemia, GI lesions, and neurologic damage that begins with an inability to produce myelin and is followed by gradual degeneration of the axon and nerve head.

Cyanocobalamin is the most stable and widely used form of vitamin B12, and has hematopoietic activity apparently identical to that of the antianemia factor in purified liver extract. The information below, describing the clinical pharmacology of cyanocobalamin, has been derived from studies with injectable vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 is quantitatively and rapidly absorbed from intramuscular and subcutaneous sites of injection. It is bound to plasma proteins and stored in the liver. Vitamin B12 is excreted in the bile and undergoes some enterohepatic recycling. Absorbed vitamin B12 is transported via specific B12 binding proteins, transcobalamin I and II, to the various tissues. The liver is the main organ for vitamin B12 storage.

Parenteral (intramuscular) administration of vitamin B12 completely reverses the megaloblastic anemia and GI symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency; the degree of improvement in neurologic symptoms depends on the duration and severity of the lesions, although progression of the lesions is immediately arrested.

Gastrointestinal absorption of vitamin B12 depends on the presence of sufficient intrinsic factor and calcium ions. Intrinsic factor deficiency causes pernicious anemia, which may be associated with subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord. Prompt parenteral administration of vitamin B12 prevents progression of neurologic damage.

The average diet supplies about 4 to 15 mcg/day of vitamin B12 in a protein-bound form that is available for absorption after normal digestion. Vitamin B12 is not present in foods of plant origin, but is abundant in foods of animal origin. In people with normal absorption, deficiencies have been reported only in strict vegetarians who consume no products of animal origin (including no milk products or eggs).

Vitamin B12 is bound to intrinsic factor during transit through the stomach; separation occurs in the terminal ileum in the presence of calcium, and vitamin B12 enters the mucosal cell for absorption. It is then transported by the transcobalamin binding proteins. A small amount (approximately 1% of the total amount ingested) is absorbed by simple diffusion, but this mechanism is adequate only with very large doses. Oral absorption is considered too undependable to rely on in patients with pernicious anemia or other conditions resulting in malabsorption of vitamin B12.

Colchicine, para-aminosalicylic acid, and heavy alcohol intake for longer than 2 weeks may produce malabsorption of vitamin B12.



A three way crossover study in 25 fasting healthy subjects was conducted to compare the bioavailability of the B12 nasal spray to the B12 nasal gel and to evaluate the relative bioavailability of the nasal formulations as compared to the intramuscular injection. The peak concentrations after administration of intranasal spray were reached in 1.25 +/- 1.9 hours. The average peak concentration of B12 obtained after baseline correction following administration of intranasal spray was 757.96 +/- 532.17 pg/mL. The bioavailability of the nasal spray relative to the intramuscular injection was found to be 6.1%. The bioavailability of the B12 nasal spray was found to be 10% less than the B12 nasal gel. The 90% confidence intervals for the loge-transformed AUC(0-t) and Cmax was 71.71% - 114.19% and 71.6% - 118.66% respectively.

In pernicious anemia patients, once weekly intranasal dosing with 500 mcg B12 gel resulted in a consistent increase in pre-dose serum B12 levels during one month of treatment (p < 0.003) above that seen one month after 100 mcg intramuscular dose (Figure).


In the blood, B12 is bound to transcobalamin II, a specific B-globulin carrier protein, and is distributed and stored primarily in the liver and bone marrow.


About 3-8 mcg of B12 is secreted into the GI tract daily via the bile; in normal subjects with sufficient intrinsic factor, all but about 1 mcg is reabsorbed. When B12 is administered in doses which saturate the binding capacity of plasma proteins and the liver, the unbound B12 is rapidly eliminated in the urine. Retention of B12 in the body is dose-dependent. About 80-90% of an intramuscular dose up to 50 mcg is retained in the body; this percentage drops to 55% for a 100 mcg dose, and decreases to 15% when a 1000 mcg dose is given.

Nascobal (Cyanocobalamin, USP)  Vitamin B<sub>12</sub> Serum Trough Levels After Intramuscular Solution (IM) of 100 mcg and Nasal Gel (IN) Administration of 500 mcg Cyanocobalamin After Weekly Doses.
Figure. Vitamin B12 Serum Trough Levels After Intramuscular Solution (IM) of 100 mcg and Nasal Gel (IN) Administration of 500 mcg Cyanocobalamin After Weekly Doses.

Figure. Vitamin B12 Serum Trough Levels After Intramuscular Solution (IM) of 100 mcg and Nasal Gel (IN) Administration of 500 mcg Cyanocobalamin After Weekly Doses.

Last reviewed on RxList: 12/12/2016
This monograph has been modified to include the generic and brand name in many instances.

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