Unusual presentations of propionic acidemia

Brain Dev. 1994 Nov:16 Suppl:46-57. doi: 10.1016/0387-7604(94)90096-5.


The files of 25 patients with propionic acidemia (PA), followed by the Inborn Errors of Metabolism Service (IEMS) at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre (KFSH & RC) from 1990 to 1993, were studied retrospectively. In 14 patients PA presented acutely with acidosis, hyperammonemia and thrombocytopenia, while in 11 patients the presentation of the disease was unusual. In the latter group, two neonates with PA initially appeared as a primarily hyperammonemic metabolic disease. In two other neonates the vomiting was so severe that they were diagnosed as intestinal obstruction in referral hospitals. The presentation in three infants was primarily as an immune disorder. In four infants, PA appeared as an acute or chronic encephalopathy, i.e. as a silent organic acidemia, with few other findings of the disease. The clinical picture of PA includes facial and nipple dysmorphia, severe hypotonia and vomiting. Severe thrombocytopenia is the hallmark of the metabolic crisis. In one patient it was noticed late and caused intracranial hemorrhage, while in three others intracranial bleeding caused death. The prognosis in PA remained grave despite rigorous treatment. Only seven of the 25 PA patients remained to have a normal life-style, while eight patients expired. The diagnosis is readily achieved by urine gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS), by tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS), or by enzyme analysis of fibroblasts. While there may be both examiner- and patient-related reasons for the variations in the presentation of PA, one other reason may be the heterogeneity of the molecular defect in propionyl-CoA carboxylase.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Multiple / metabolism
  • Abnormalities, Multiple / pathology
  • Ammonia / blood
  • Brain Diseases / diagnosis
  • Brain Diseases / metabolism
  • Brain Diseases / pathology
  • Carboxy-Lyases / deficiency
  • Carboxy-Lyases / metabolism
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / metabolism
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / pathology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Deficiency Syndromes / diagnosis
  • Immunologic Deficiency Syndromes / metabolism
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intestinal Obstruction / diagnosis
  • Intestinal Obstruction / etiology
  • Male
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / blood
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / diagnosis*
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / pathology
  • Methylmalonyl-CoA Decarboxylase
  • Propionates / blood*
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Propionates
  • Ammonia
  • Carboxy-Lyases
  • Methylmalonyl-CoA Decarboxylase