Lessons from genetic disorders of branched-chain amino acid metabolism

J Nutr. 2006 Jan;136(1 Suppl):243S-9S. doi: 10.1093/jn/136.1.243S.


Genetic disorders of BCAA metabolism produce amino acidopathies and various forms of organic aciduria with severe clinical consequences. A metabolic block in the oxidative decarboxylation of BCAA caused by mutations in the mitochondrial branched-chain alpha-keto acid dehydrogenase complex (BCKDC) results in Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD) or branched-chain ketoaciduria. There are presently five known clinical phenotypes for MSUD, i.e., classic, intermediate, intermittent, thiamin-responsive, and dihydrolipoamide dehydrogenase (E3)-deficient, based on severity of the disease, response to thiamin therapy, and the gene locus affected. Reduced glutamate, glutamine, and gamma-aminobutyrate concentrations induced by the accumulation of branched-chain alpha-ketoacids in the brain cortex of affected children and neonatal polled Hereford calves are considered the cause of MSUD encephalopathies. The long-term restriction of BCAA intake in diets and orthotopic liver transplantation have proven effective in controlling plasma BCAA levels and mitigating some of the above neurological manifestations. To date, approximately 100 mutations have been identified in four (branched-chain alpha-ketoacid decarboxylase/dehydrogenasealpha [E1alpha], E1beta, dihydrolipoyl transacylase [E2], and E3) of the six genes that encode the human BCKDC catalytic machine. We have documented a strong correlation between the presence of mutant E2 proteins and the thiamin-responsive MSUD phenotype. We show that the normal E1 component possesses residual decarboxylase activity, which is augmented by the binding to a mutant E2 protein in the presence of the E1 cofactor thiamin diphosphate. Our results provide a biochemical model for the effectiveness of thiamin therapy to thiamin-responsive MSUD patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 3-Methyl-2-Oxobutanoate Dehydrogenase (Lipoamide) / genetics
  • Acyltransferases / genetics
  • Acyltransferases / physiology
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Maple Syrup Urine Disease / diagnosis
  • Maple Syrup Urine Disease / drug therapy
  • Maple Syrup Urine Disease / etiology
  • Maple Syrup Urine Disease / metabolism*
  • Mutation
  • Phenotype
  • Thiamine / administration & dosage


  • 3-Methyl-2-Oxobutanoate Dehydrogenase (Lipoamide)
  • Acyltransferases
  • dihydrolipoamide acyltransferase
  • Thiamine