Purine nucleoside phosphorylase deficiency

Immunodefic Rev. 1991;3(1):45-81.


Purine nucleoside phosphorylase (PNP) deficiency is a rare inherited disease accounting for approximately 4% of patients with severe combined immunodeficiency. Thirty-three patients have been reported. PNP-deficient patients suffer from recurrent infections, usually beginning in the first year of life. Two thirds of patients have evidence of neurologic disorders. Findings range from spasticity to developmental delay, to mental retardation. One third of patients develop autoimmune disease. The most common manifestation of this is autoimmune hemolytic anemia. Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura and systemic lupus erythematosis have also been reported. Patients usually present with infections but approximately one fourth have come to medical care initially for neurological problems. In PNP deficiency, T- and B-cell immunity are affected. T-cell function may be profoundly deficient, may be normal at birth and then decrease with time, or may fluctuate repeatedly between low and normal. B-cell function can be normal but is deficient in approximately one third of patients. PNP protein is a trimer of approximately 90,000 daltons. It is found in most tissues of the body but is at highest levels in lymphoid tissues. This tissue distribution explains why the lymphoid system is predominantly affected in PNP deficiency. Many mechanisms have been proposed to explain the metabolic toxicity in PNP deficiency. The elevated dGTP found in PNP deficiency is thought to inhibit ribonucleotide reductase and, thus, impede cell division. Depressed GTP levels may correlate with neurologic dysfunction. The gene for PNP has been cloned; it is located on the long arm of chromosome 14. Studies of a mutant PNP gene isolated from one patient showed that a point mutation resulting in an amino acid substitution was responsible for PNP deficiency. PNP deficiency has a grave prognosis. No patient has reached the third decade of life. Twenty-nine of the 33 reported patients have died from their disease. Prenatal diagnosis is currently available. Many different therapies have been utilized for PNP deficiency including bone marrow transplantation, red cell transfusions, and supplementation of the diet with purines and pyrimidines. None of these therapies has been consistently successful. In light of the poor prognosis for PNP deficiency, bone marrow transplantation should be considered for all patients. In the future, improved forms of therapy such as gene therapy may become available.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Guanosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Purine-Nucleoside Phosphorylase / deficiency*
  • Purine-Pyrimidine Metabolism, Inborn Errors / immunology*
  • Purines / metabolism
  • Pyrimidines / biosynthesis
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases
  • Severe Combined Immunodeficiency / etiology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Purines
  • Pyrimidines
  • Guanosine Triphosphate
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases
  • Purine-Nucleoside Phosphorylase