Elevated plasma homocysteine has been linked to pregnancy complications and developmental diseases. Whereas hyperhomocysteinemia is frequently observed in populations at risk of malnutrition, hypoxia may alter the remethylation of homocysteine in hepatocytes. We aimed to investigate the combined influences of early deficiency in nutritional determinants of hyperhomocysteinemia and of neonatal hypoxia on homocysteine metabolic pathways in developing rats. Dams were fed a standard diet or a diet deficient in vitamins B12, B2, folate, month, and choline from 1 mo before pregnancy until weaning of the offspring. The pups were divided into four treatment groups corresponding to "no hypoxia/standard diet," "hypoxia (100% N2 for 5 min at postnatal d 1)/standard diet," "no hypoxia/deficiency," and "hypoxia/deficiency," and homocysteine metabolism was analyzed in their liver at postnatal d 21. Hypoxia increased plasma homocysteine in deficient pups (21.2 +/- 1.6 versus 13.3 +/- 1.2 microM, p < 0.05). Whereas mRNA levels of cystathionine beta-synthase remained unaltered, deficiency reduced the enzyme activity (48.7 +/- 2.9 versus 83.6 +/- 6.3 nmol/h/mg, p < 0.01), an effect potentiated by hypoxia (29.4 +/- 4.7 nmol/h/mg, p < 0.05). The decrease in methylene-tetrahydrofolate reductase activity measured in deficient pups was attenuated by hypoxia (p < 0.05), and methionine-adenosyltransferase activity was slightly reduced only in the "hypoxia/deficiency" group (p < 0.05). Finally, hypoxia enhanced the deficiency-induced drop of the S-adenosylmethionine/S-adenosylhomocysteine ratio, which is known to influence DNA methylation and gene expression. In conclusion, neonatal hypoxia may increase homocysteinemia mainly by decreasing homocysteine transsulfuration in developing rats under methyl-deficient regimen. It could therefore potentiate the well-known adverse effects of hyperhomocysteinemia.