Urea cycle disorders-update

J Hum Genet. 2019 Sep;64(9):833-847. doi: 10.1038/s10038-019-0614-4. Epub 2019 May 20.


The urea cycle is a metabolic pathway for the disposal of excess nitrogen, which arises primarily as ammonia. Nitrogen is essential for growth and life-maintenance, but excessive ammonia leads to life-threatening conditions. The urea cycle disorders (UCDs) comprise diseases presenting with hyperammonemia that arise in either the neonatal period (about 50% of cases) or later. Congenital defects of the enzymes or transporters of the urea cycle cause the disease. This cycle utilizes five enzymes, two of which, carbamoylphosphate synthetase 1 and ornithine transcarbamylase are present in the mitochondrial matrix, whereas the others (argininosuccinate synthetase, argininosuccinate lyase and arginase 1) are present in the cytoplasm. In addition, N-acetylglutamate synthase and at least two transporter proteins are essential to urea cycle function. Severity and age of onset depend on residual enzyme or transporter function and are related to the respective gene mutations. The strategy for therapy is to prevent the irreversible toxicity of high-ammonia exposure to the brain. The pathogenesis and natural course are poorly understood because of the rarity of the disease, so an international registry system and novel clinical trials are much needed. We review here the current concepts of the pathogenesis, diagnostics, including genetics and treatment of UCDs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arginase* / genetics
  • Arginase* / metabolism
  • Brain / enzymology*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Carbamoyl-Phosphate Synthase (Ammonia)* / genetics
  • Carbamoyl-Phosphate Synthase (Ammonia)* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mutation*
  • Ornithine Carbamoyltransferase* / genetics
  • Ornithine Carbamoyltransferase* / metabolism
  • Urea Cycle Disorders, Inborn* / classification
  • Urea Cycle Disorders, Inborn* / enzymology
  • Urea Cycle Disorders, Inborn* / genetics
  • Urea Cycle Disorders, Inborn* / therapy


  • Ornithine Carbamoyltransferase
  • ARG1 protein, human
  • Arginase
  • Carbamoyl-Phosphate Synthase (Ammonia)