Pyruvate dehydrogenase deficiency and epilepsy

Brain Dev. 2011 Nov;33(10):856-65. doi: 10.1016/j.braindev.2011.08.003. Epub 2011 Sep 9.


The pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDHc) is a mitochondrial matrix multienzyme complex that provides the link between glycolysis and the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle by catalyzing the conversion of pyruvate into acetyl-CoA. PDHc deficiency is one of the commoner metabolic disorders of lactic acidosis presenting with neurological phenotypes that vary with age and gender. In this mini-review, we postulate mechanisms of epilepsy in the setting of PDHc deficiency using two illustrative cases (one with pyruvate dehydrogenase complex E1-alpha polypeptide (PDHA1) deficiency and the second one with pyruvate dehydrogenase complex E1-beta subunit (PDHB) deficiency (a rare subtype of PDHc deficiency)) and a selected review of published case series. PDHc plays a critical role in the pathway of carbohydrate metabolism and energy production. In severe deficiency states the resulting energy deficit impacts on brain development in utero resulting in structural brain anomalies and epilepsy. Milder deficiency states present with variable manifestations that include cognitive delay, ataxia, and seizures. Epileptogenesis in PDHc deficiency is linked to energy failure, development of structural brain anomalies and abnormal neurotransmitter metabolism. The use of the ketogenic diet bypasses the metabolic block, by providing a direct source of acetyl-CoA, leading to amelioration of some symptoms. Genetic counseling is essential as PDHA1 deficiency (commonest defect) is X-linked although females can be affected due to unfavorable lyonization, while PDHB and PDH phosphatase (PDP) deficiencies (much rarer defects) are of autosomal recessive inheritance. Research is in progress for looking into animal models to better understand pathogenesis and management of this challenging disorder.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Epilepsy / diagnosis
  • Epilepsy / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways
  • Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Complex / metabolism*
  • Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Complex Deficiency Disease / complications*
  • Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Complex Deficiency Disease / diagnosis
  • Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Complex Deficiency Disease / etiology


  • Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Complex