Unresponsiveness to tetrahydrobiopterin of phenylalanine hydroxylase deficiency

Alberto Ponzone, Francesco Porta, Alessandro Mussa, Alessandra Alluto, Silvio Ferraris, Marco Spada

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conflicting results have been reported concerning the efficacy of tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4), the cofactor of phenylalanine hydroxylase, for reducing phenylalanine (Phe) concentration in phenylketonuria (PKU). We aimed to test quantitatively the effects of BH4 in PKU patients. Seven fully characterized patients were selected among a population of 130 PKU subjects as harboring PKU mutations predicted as BH4 responsive and previously considered responsive to a cofactor challenge. They received a simple Phe (100 mg/kg) and 2 combined Phe (100 mg/kg) and BH4 (20 mg/kg) oral loading tests. Cofactor was administered either before or after the amino acid. The concentrations of Phe, tyrosine (Tyr), and biopterin were measured over 24 hours after loading. The comparative analysis of the loading tests showed that in all patients plasma Phe concentrations peaked within 3 hours, and fell within 24 hours by about 50% in benign, 20% in mild, and 15% in severe phenylalanine hydroxylase deficiency regardless of BH4 administration. A consistent or moderate increase of plasma Tyr, again independent of the cofactor challenge, was observed only in the less severe forms of PAH deficiency. Mean blood biopterin concentration increased 6 times after simple Phe and 34 to 39 times after combined loading tests. The administration of BH4 does not alter Phe and Tyr metabolism in PKU patients. The clearance of plasma Phe after oral loading and, as well as Tyr production, is not related to cofactor challenge but to patient's phenotype. The assessment of BH4 responsiveness by the methods so far used is not reliable, and the occurrence of BH4-responsive forms of PKU still has to be definitely proven.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)645-652
Number of pages8
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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