Effect of age at loss of dietary control on intellectual performance and behavior of children with phenylketonuria

N Engl J Med. 1986 Mar 6;314(10):593-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198603063141001.


We determined the effect on intellectual performance and behavior of the age at which dietary control was lost in 119 10-year-old children with phenylketonuria (PKU) who had started on a diet low in phenylalanine before the age of 65 days. The children's diets were considered to be out of control when their blood phenylalanine concentration persistently exceeded 15 mg per deciliter. The age at which control was lost was the best, and frequently the only, predictor of the child's IQ at the age of 8 or 10 years and of the deficit in the child's IQ as compared with those of his or her unaffected siblings or parents. The age at which control was lost was also the best predictor of the deficit in scores on the Wide Range Achievement Test of children with PKU at the age of eight, as compared with their unaffected siblings, and of behavior problems (Louisville Behavior Checklist). Variables that were not significant included the maximal phenylalanine concentration before dietary therapy, the age at which treatment was started, and the family's coping abilities. The greatest deficiencies in all of these outcomes were observed among children who were out of dietary control before the age of six years. The highest correlation between the IQs of the children with PKU and their respective parents was observed among the children still on the diet at the age of eight years; the lowest, among those who had poor dietary control before the age of six. These findings suggest that phenylalanine restriction should continue after the age of eight years in children with PKU.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / etiology
  • Child Behavior*
  • Food Analysis
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Intelligence*
  • Phenylalanine / analysis
  • Phenylalanine / blood
  • Phenylketonurias / diet therapy
  • Phenylketonurias / psychology*


  • Phenylalanine