Clinical, autonomic and therapeutic observations in two siblings with postural hypotension and sympathetic failure due to an inability to synthesize noradrenaline from dopamine because of a deficiency of dopamine beta hydroxylase

Q J Med. 1990 Jun;75(278):617-33.


A brother and sister with long-standing symptoms of postural hypotension are described. They were considerably worse in the morning, after exercise and in warm weather. In the male, erection was unaffected but ejaculation was prolonged or absent. Both had nocturia, but there were no urinary bladder, bowel or sweating abnormalities. Autonomic function tests confirmed sympathetic adrenergic failure with spared sympathetic cholinergic and intact parasympathetic function. There were no other neurological abnormalities. Noradrenaline and adrenaline were undetectable in the plasma, but plasma dopamine was elevated. Urinary levels of noradrenaline and adrenaline metabolites were below detection limits, but dopamine metabolites were normal or elevated. Dopamine beta-hydroxylase activity was undetectable in the plasma. Immunohistochemical studies of perivascular cutaneous tissue confirmed normal peptidergic and tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactivity, with absent dopamine beta-hydroxylase immunoreactivity. The findings were consistent with an enzymatic deficit in the conversion of dopamine to noradrenaline. The parents were clinically and biochemically normal. Treatment of both patients with the synthetic amino acid, d-l-threo-dihydroxyphenylserine, which contains a hydroxyl group and is converted to noradrenaline by dopa-decarboxylase, reduced symptoms and signs of postural hypotension and increased levels of plasma noradrenaline and its urinary metabolites. In the male, ejaculation became possible. Behavioural changes included a feeling of confidence and optimism, with a tendency to be argumentative. The laevo isomer also raised blood pressure and plasma noradrenaline levels. The drug had no direct pressor effects, as its actions were prevented by the dopa-decarboxylase inhibitor, carbidopa.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopamine beta-Hydroxylase / deficiency*
  • Droxidopa / therapeutic use
  • Epinephrine / biosynthesis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypotension, Orthostatic / drug therapy
  • Hypotension, Orthostatic / genetics
  • Hypotension, Orthostatic / metabolism
  • Hypotension, Orthostatic / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Norepinephrine / biosynthesis
  • Sweating / physiology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology*


  • Dopamine beta-Hydroxylase
  • Droxidopa
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine
  • Epinephrine