Tandem mass spectrometry was applied to detect derangements in the pathways of amino acid and fatty acid metabolism in N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea–treated (ENU-treated) mice. We identified mice with marked elevation of blood branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), ketoaciduria, and clinical features resembling human maple syrup urine disease (MSUD), a severe genetic metabolic disorder caused by the deficiency of branched-chain α-keto acid dehydrogenase (BCKD) complex. However, the BCKD genes and enzyme activity were normal. Sequencing of branched-chain aminotransferase genes (Bcat) showed no mutation in the cytoplasmic isoform (Bcat-1) but revealed a homozygous splice site mutation in the mitochondrial isoform (Bcat-2). The mutation caused a deletion of exon 2, a marked decrease in Bcat-2 mRNA, and a deficiency in both BCAT-2 protein and its enzyme activity. Affected mice responded to a BCAA-restricted diet with amelioration of the clinical symptoms and normalization of the amino acid pattern. We conclude that BCAT-2 deficiency in the mouse can cause a disease that mimics human MSUD. These mice provide an important animal model for study of BCAA metabolism and its toxicity. Metabolomics-guided screening, coupled with ENU mutagenesis, is a powerful approach in uncovering novel enzyme deficiencies and recognizing important pathways of genetic metabolic disorders.
Jer-Yuarn Wu, Hsiao-Jung Kao, Sing-Chung Li, Robert Stevens, Steven Hillman, David Millington, Yuan-Tsong Chen