Large neutral amino acids (LNAAs), including phenylalanine (Phe), compete for transport across the blood-brain barrier (BBB) via the L-type amino acid carrier. Accordingly, elevated plasma Phe impairs brain uptake of other LNAAs in patients with phenylketonuria (PKU). Direct effects of elevated brain Phe and depleted LNAAs are probably major causes for disturbed brain development and function in PKU. Competition for the carrier might conversely be put to use to lower Phe influx when the plasma concentrations of all other LNAAs are increased. This hypothesis was tested by measuring brain Phe in patients with PKU by quantitative 1H magnetic resonance spectroscopy during an oral Phe challenge with and without additional supplementation with all other LNAAs. Baseline plasma Phe was ∼1,000 μmol/l and brain Phe was ∼250 μmol/l in both series. Without LNAA supplementation, brain Phe increased to ∼400 μmol/l after the oral Phe load. Electroencephalogram (EEG) spectral analysis revealed acutely disturbed brain activity. With concurrent LNAA supplementation, Phe influx was completely blocked and there was no slowing of EEG activity. These results are relevant for further characterization of the LNAA carrier and of the pathophysiology underlying brain dysfunction in PKU and for treatment of patients with PKU, as brain function might be improved by continued LNAA supplementation.


Joachim Pietz, Roland Kreis, André Rupp, Ertan Mayatepek, Dietz Rating, Chris Boesch, Hans Joachim Bremer


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