Phenylalanine hydroxylase deficiency

Genet Med. 2011 Aug;13(8):697-707. doi: 10.1097/GIM.0b013e3182141b48.


Phenylalanine hydroxylase deficiency is an autosomal recessive disorder that results in intolerance to the dietary intake of the essential amino acid phenylalanine. It occurs in approximately 1:15,000 individuals. Deficiency of this enzyme produces a spectrum of disorders including classic phenylketonuria, mild phenylketonuria, and mild hyperphenylalaninemia. Classic phenylketonuria is caused by a complete or near-complete deficiency of phenylalanine hydroxylase activity and without dietary restriction of phenylalanine most children will develop profound and irreversible intellectual disability. Mild phenylketonuria and mild hyperphenylalaninemia are associated with lower risk of impaired cognitive development in the absence of treatment. Phenylalanine hydroxylase deficiency can be diagnosed by newborn screening based on detection of the presence of hyperphenylalaninemia using the Guthrie microbial inhibition assay or other assays on a blood spot obtained from a heel prick. Since the introduction of newborn screening, the major neurologic consequences of hyperphenylalaninemia have been largely eradicated. Affected individuals can lead normal lives. However, recent data suggest that homeostasis is not fully restored with current therapy. Treated individuals have a higher incidence of neuropsychological problems. The mainstay of treatment for hyperphenylalaninemia involves a low-protein diet and use of a phenylalanine-free medical formula. This treatment must commence as soon as possible after birth and should continue for life. Regular monitoring of plasma phenylalanine and tyrosine concentrations is necessary. Targets of plasma phenylalanine of 120-360 μmol/L (2-6 mg/dL) in the first decade of life are essential for optimal outcome. Phenylalanine targets in adolescence and adulthood are less clear. A significant proportion of patients with phenylketonuria may benefit from adjuvant therapy with 6R-tetrahydrobiopterin stereoisomer. Special consideration must be given to adult women with hyperphenylalaninemia because of the teratogenic effects of phenylalanine. Women with phenylalanine hydroxylase deficiency considering pregnancy should follow special guidelines and assure adequate energy intake with the proper proportion of protein, fat, and carbohydrates to minimize risks to the developing fetus. Molecular genetic testing of the phenylalanine hydroxylase gene is available for genetic counseling purposes to determine carrier status of at-risk relatives and for prenatal testing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genetic Testing
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Phenylalanine / blood
  • Phenylalanine Hydroxylase / deficiency*
  • Phenylalanine Hydroxylase / genetics
  • Phenylketonurias / diagnosis
  • Phenylketonurias / genetics
  • Phenylketonurias / therapy


  • Phenylalanine
  • Phenylalanine Hydroxylase