Alcaptonuria and ochronotic arthritis

Mol Biol Med. 1991 Feb;8(1):31-8.


The rare hereditary metabolic disorder alcaptonuria is characterized by the inability to metabolize homogentisic acid, an intermediary compound in the catabolism of the aromatic amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine. The essentially complete deficiency of homogentisic acid oxidase causes a striking accumulation of homogentisic acid and a derived melanin-like pigment in the connective tissues; the latter is termed ochronosis. Urinary homogentisic acid is oxidized rapidly and becomes a brown or black pigment if alkali is added. Older alcaptonurics have intensely pigmented (ochronotic) connective tissues, primarily the cartilaginous joint surfaces, ribs, intervertebral disks, ear cartilage, etc. They also have an unusual type of arthritis affecting the large weight-bearing joints, i.e. hips, knees and spine, but not the small joints of the hands and feet, as in rheumatoid arthritis. A mechanistic explanation for ochronotic arthritis has not been worked out, but it is clear that accumulation of homogentisic acid in the connective tissues directly or indirectly leads to the arthritic changes. A detailed analysis of the events leading to alcaptonuric arthritis should be worthwhile since it is a model form of arthritis secondary to a well-defined metabolic disorder that must persist for many years before the arthritic complications appear. Possibly other, more common types of arthritis, develop secondarily to metabolic disturbances that involve chemical mediators less obvious, or less easily detected, than homogentisic acid.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkaptonuria / complications*
  • Animals
  • Arthritis / etiology*
  • Arthritis / pathology
  • Connective Tissue / pathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Pigmentation Disorders / etiology
  • Pigmentation Disorders / pathology