Successful use of alternate waste nitrogen agents and hemodialysis in a patient with hyperammonemic coma after heart-lung transplantation

Arch Neurol. 1999 Apr;56(4):481-4. doi: 10.1001/archneur.56.4.481.


Background: Lethal hyperammonemic coma has been reported in 2 adults after lung transplantation. It was associated with a massive elevation of brain glutamine levels, while plasma glutamine levels were normal or only slightly elevated. In liver tissue, glutamine synthetase activity was markedly reduced, and the histologic findings resembled those of Reye syndrome. The adequacy of therapy commonly used for inherited disorders of the urea cycle has not been adequately evaluated in patients with this form of secondary hyperammonemia.

Objective: To determine whether hemodialysis, in conjunction with intravenous sodium phenylacetate, sodium benzoate, and arginine hydrochloride therapy, would be efficacious in a patient with hyperammonemic coma after solid-organ transplantation.

Design: Case report.

Setting: A children's hospital.

Patient: A 41-year-old woman with congenital heart disease developed a hyperammonemic coma with brain edema 19 days after undergoing a combined heart and lung transplantation.

Methods: Ammonium was measured in plasma. Amino acids were quantitated in plasma and cerebrospinal fluid by column chromatography. The effectiveness of therapy was assessed by measuring plasma ammonium levels and intracranial pressure and performing sequential neurological examinations.

Results: The patient had the anomalous combination of increased cerebrospinal fluid and decreased plasma glutamine levels. To our knowledge, she is the first patient with this complication after solid-organ transplantation to survive after combined therapy with sodium phenylacetate, sodium benzoate, arginine hydrochloride, and hemodialysis. Complications of the acute coma included focal motor seizures, which were controlled with carbamazepine, and difficulty with short-term memory.

Conclusions: The aggressive use of hemodialysis in conjunction with intravenous sodium phenylacetate, sodium benzoate, and arginine hydrochloride therapy may allow survival in patients after solid-organ transplantation. An acute acquired derangement in extra-central nervous system glutamine metabolism may play a role in the production of hyperammonemia in this illness that resembles Reye syndrome, and, as in other hyperammonemic disorders, the duration and degree of elevation of brain glutamine levels may be the important determining factors in responsiveness to therapy.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amino Acids / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Ammonia / blood*
  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic / therapeutic use*
  • Brain Diseases / pathology
  • Coma / etiology*
  • Coma / physiopathology
  • Coma / therapy
  • Edema / etiology
  • Female
  • Heart-Lung Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Phenylacetates / therapeutic use*
  • Renal Dialysis*


  • Amino Acids
  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic
  • Phenylacetates
  • Ammonia
  • phenylacetic acid