BCKDK deficiency: a treatable neurodevelopmental disease amenable to newborn screening

Brain. 2023 Jul 3;146(7):3003-3013. doi: 10.1093/brain/awad010.


There are few causes of treatable neurodevelopmental diseases described to date. Branched-chain ketoacid dehydrogenase kinase (BCKDK) deficiency causes branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) depletion and is linked to a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by autism, intellectual disability and microcephaly. We report the largest cohort of patients studied, broadening the phenotypic and genotypic spectrum. Moreover, this is the first study to present newborn screening findings and mid-term clinical outcome. In this cross-sectional study, patients with a diagnosis of BCKDK deficiency were recruited via investigators' practices through a MetabERN initiative. Clinical, biochemical and genetic data were collected. Dried blood spot (DBS) newborn screening (NBS) amino acid profiles were retrieved from collaborating centres and compared to a healthy newborn reference population. Twenty-one patients with BCKDK mutations were included from 13 families. Patients were diagnosed between 8 months and 16 years (mean: 5.8 years, 43% female). At diagnosis, BCAA levels (leucine, valine and isoleucine) were below reference values in plasma and in CSF. All patients had global neurodevelopmental delay; 18/21 had gross motor function (GMF) impairment with GMF III or worse in 5/18, 16/16 intellectual disability, 17/17 language impairment, 12/17 autism spectrum disorder, 9/21 epilepsy, 12/15 clumsiness, 3/21 had sensorineural hearing loss and 4/20 feeding difficulties. No microcephaly was observed at birth, but 17/20 developed microcephaly during follow-up. Regression was reported in six patients. Movement disorder was observed in 3/21 patients: hyperkinetic movements (1), truncal ataxia (1) and dystonia (2). After treatment with a high-protein diet (≥ 2 g/kg/day) and BCAA supplementation (100-250 mg/kg/day), plasma BCAA increased significantly (P < 0.001), motor functions and head circumference stabilized/improved in 13/13 and in 11/15 patients, respectively. Among cases with follow-up data, none of the three patients starting treatment before 2 years of age developed autism at follow-up. The patient with the earliest age of treatment initiation (8 months) showed normal development at 3 years of age. NBS in DBS identified BCAA levels significantly lower than those of the normal population. This work highlights the potential benefits of dietetic treatment, in particular early introduction of BCAA. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to increase awareness about this treatable disease and consider it as a candidate for early detection by NBS programmes.

Keywords: BCKDK; autism spectrum disorder; intellectual disability; microcephaly; newborn screening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / metabolism
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / diagnosis
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / genetics
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Glia Maturation Factor
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intellectual Disability* / genetics
  • Male
  • Microcephaly* / genetics
  • Neonatal Screening


  • Glia Maturation Factor
  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain