[Prenatal symptoms and diagnosis of inherited metabolic diseases]

Arch Pediatr. 2012 Sep;19(9):959-69. doi: 10.1016/j.arcped.2012.06.002. Epub 2012 Aug 9.
[Article in French]


Inherited metabolic diseases are mostly due to enzyme deficiency in one of numerous metabolic pathways, leading to absence of a compound downstream from and the accumulation of a compound upstream from the deficient metabolite(s). Diseases of intoxication by proteins (aminoacidopathies, organic acidurias, urea cycle defects) and by sugars (galactosemia, fructosemia) usually do not give prenatal symptoms since mothers protect their fetuses from pathological metabolite accumulation. A well-known exception is hypoplasia of corpus callosum, as is sometimes observed in nonketotic hyperglycinemia and sulfite oxidase deficiency. Conversely, women with phenylketonuria "poison" their fetus if they are not treated (spontaneous abortions, intrauterine growth restriction [IUGR], cardiac malformations, and brain disease). Amino acid synthesis defects can lead to prenatal symptoms: microcephaly in serine deficiency (detectable by amino acid analysis in fetal cord blood), and brain malformations in glutamine synthetase deficiency. Impaired folate metabolism is involved in a large fraction of neurodevelopmental defects referred to as spina bifida, yet the underlying genetic component(s) are largely unknown. Energy metabolism diseases caused by defects in the synthesis or utilization of relevant metabolites lead to organ dysfunctions or malformations, but prenatal diagnosis is usually impossible unless genetic analysis can rely on a previously affected child in the family. A somewhat intermediate condition is defects of mitochondrial beta-oxidation of fatty acids, as they may sometimes be symptomatic prenatally (notably the HELLP syndrome or other presentations), and in this case, organic acid and acylcarnitine analysis in amniotic fluid can be informative in the absence of an index case. In contrast, complex molecule diseases commonly give prenatal symptoms that may permit the diagnosis even in the absence of index cases: hydrops fetalis and skeletal anomalies in lysosomal storage diseases, hydrops fetalis in congenital disorders of glycosylation (CDG) and transaldolase deficiency, brain malformations in O-glycosylation defects, brain malformations, kidney cysts and skeletal anomalies in peroxysomal diseases (Zellweger syndrome), syndactyly, genitalia malformations, and IUGR in Smith-Lemli-Opitz (SLO) syndrome. Although many metabolic disorders show biochemical abnormalities during fetal development that are informative for prenatal diagnosis, only a fraction of them are clinically/sonographically symptomatic before birth, thus allowing for prenatal diagnosis in the absence of an index case, i.e., serine deficiency, some fatty acid beta-oxidation defects, transaldolase deficiency, lysosomal diseases, CDG, Zellweger syndrome, and SLO syndrome.

Publication types

  • English Abstract

MeSH terms

  • Energy Metabolism
  • Female
  • Fetal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Macromolecular Substances / metabolism
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / diagnosis*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications
  • Prenatal Diagnosis*


  • Macromolecular Substances