Metabolic intermediates in lactic acidosis: compounds, samples and interpretation

J Inherit Metab Dis. 1996;19(4):478-88. doi: 10.1007/BF01799109.


A number of acquired conditions including infections, severe catabolic states, tissue anoxia, severe dehydration and poisoning can give rise to hyperlactacidaemia. All these causes should be ruled out before considering inborn errors of metabolism. Carefully collected samples are necessary if artefacts that result in spuriously increased lactate/pyruvate (L/P) and 3-hydroxybutyrate/acetoacetate (B/A) ratios are to be avoided. When properly performed, 24-h studies of L/P and B/A ratios provide a useful tool in making a diagnosis. A few metabolic profiles when present are specific or highly suggestive of a given disorder. When the L/P ratio is normal or low, pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) deficiency is highly probable whatever the lactate concentration, which is often only moderately elevated after meal, may be. When the L/P ratio is very high in association with post-prandial hyperketonaemia and in contrast to a normal or low B/A ratio, pyruvate carboxylase (PC) deficiency and alpha-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase (KGDH) deficiency are the most likely diagnoses. The distinction between the two disorders relies upon amino acid and organic acid profiles (glutamate and alpha-ketoglutarate accumulations in KGDH deficiency and hyperammonaemia and hypercitrullinaemia in PC deficiency). When both L/P and B/A ratios are elevated and associated with significant post-prandial hyperketonaemia, respiratory-chain disorders should first be suspected. All other profiles, especially a high L/P ratio without hyperketonaemia, are compatible with respiratory-chain disorders but are not specific; all acquired anoxic conditions should also be ruled out. Clearly, the clinical utility of these profiles needs to be interpreted cautiously in very ill patients in relation to the cardiocirculatory condition and to therapy. Finally, a normal profile, even after stress and loading, does not rule out an inborn error of lactate/pyruvate oxidation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acidosis, Lactic / diagnosis
  • Acidosis, Lactic / etiology
  • Acidosis, Lactic / genetics
  • Acidosis, Lactic / metabolism*
  • Glucose Tolerance Test
  • Humans
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / diagnosis