Tyrosine supplementation in phenylketonuria: diurnal blood tyrosine levels and presumptive brain influx of tyrosine and other large neutral amino acids

J Pediatr. 2001 Sep;139(3):421-7. doi: 10.1067/mpd.2001.117576.


Tyrosine supplementation has not consistently been found to improve neuropsychologic function in phenylketonuria (PKU), possibly because of failure to achieve adequate levels of tyrosine in the brain.

Objectives: To evaluate blood levels achieved after tyrosine supplementation in treated PKU and calculate brain influxes of tyrosine and other large neutral amino acids before and with tyrosine supplementation.

Study design: Ten subjects with PKU receiving a phenylalanine-restricted diet were studied over 48 hours; each received tyrosine supplementation (300 mg/kg) on day 2. Plasma phenylalanine and tyrosine were measured every 2 hours, and all free amino acids were measured every 6 hours. Brain influxes of tyrosine and other large neutral amino acids were calculated.

Results: Plasma tyrosine levels were low normal at baseline. With supplementation there was a substantial but unsustained rise in plasma tyrosine. Calculated brain influx of tyrosine was 27% +/- 19% of normal before supplementation, increasing to 90% +/- 58% of normal with supplementation. Nevertheless, calculated influx remained less than 70% of normal at 50% of the time points. The calculated brain influxes of all other large neutral amino acids except tryptophan were 20% to 40% of normal before and with tyrosine supplementation.

Conclusions: Tyrosine supplementation in the diet for PKU produces marked but nonsustained increases in plasma tyrosine levels, with calculated brain influx that often remains suboptimal. This could explain the lack of consistent neuropsychologic benefit with tyrosine supplementation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Phenylketonurias / drug therapy*
  • Tyrosine / blood
  • Tyrosine / therapeutic use*


  • Amino Acids
  • Tyrosine