Maternal phenylketonuria syndrome: studies in mice suggest a potential approach to a continuing problem

Pediatr Res. 2018 Apr;83(4):889-896. doi: 10.1038/pr.2017.323. Epub 2018 Jan 31.


BackgroundUntreated phenylketonuria (PKU), one of the most common human genetic disorders, usually results in mental retardation. Although a protein-restricted artificial diet can prevent retardation, dietary compliance in adults is often poor. In pregnant PKU women, noncompliance can result in maternal PKU syndrome, where high phenylalanine (Phe) levels cause severe fetal complications. Enzyme substitution therapy using Phe ammonia lyase (PAL) corrects PKU in BTBR Phe hydroxylase (Pahenu2) mutant mice, suggesting a potential for maternal PKU syndrome treatment in humans.MethodsWe reviewed clinical data to assess maternal PKU syndrome incidence in pregnant PKU women. We treated female PKU mice (on normal diet) with PAL, stabilizing Phe at physiological levels, and mated them to assess pregnancy outcomes.ResultsPatient records show that, unfortunately, the efficacy of diet to prevent maternal PKU syndrome has not significantly improved since the problem was first noted 40 years ago. PAL treatment of pregnant PKU mice shows that offspring of PAL-treated dams survive to adulthood, in contrast to the complete lethality seen in untreated mice, or limited survival seen in mice on a PKU diet.ConclusionPAL treatment reduced maternal PKU syndrome severity in mice and may have potential for human PKU therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ammonia-Lyases / genetics
  • Animals
  • Diet, Protein-Restricted
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Female
  • Heterozygote
  • Homozygote
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / genetics
  • Intellectual Disability / physiopathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Phenylalanine Hydroxylase / genetics*
  • Phenylketonuria, Maternal / diet therapy
  • Phenylketonuria, Maternal / genetics*
  • Phenylketonuria, Maternal / physiopathology*
  • Polyethylene Glycols / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Pregnancy, Animal
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • Phenylalanine Hydroxylase
  • Ammonia-Lyases