[Urea cycle disorders in adult patients].

Rev Neurol (Paris). 2007 Oct;163(10):897-903.

[Article in French]



Urea cycle disorders (UCD) usually present after 24 h to 48 h of life with failure to thrive, lethargy and coma leading to death, but milder forms may occur from infancy to adulthood.


Survival of children with UCD has significantly improved and the need for transitional care to adulthood has emerged. Adult onset UCD present with chronic or acute neurological, psychiatric and digestive symptoms associated with protein avoidance. Ornithine transcarbamylase (OTC) deficiency, which is inherited as an X-linked disorder, is the most well-described UCD in adults. Acute decompensations associate the triad of encephalopathy, respiratory alkalosis and hyperammonemia. Acute encephalopathy is characterized by brain edema, which is life-threatening without treatment. Specific urea cycle enzyme deficiency can be suspected in the presence of abnormal plasma amino acids concentrations and urinary excretion of orotic acid. A measurement enzyme activity in appropriate tissue, or DNA analysis if available, is required for diagnosis. Treatment requires restriction of dietary protein intake and the use of alternative pathways of waste nitrogen excretion with sodium benzoate and sodium phenylbutyrate. Patients with acute forms may need hemodialysis or hemodiafiltration. Therapeutic goals for OTC deficiency are to maintain plasma ammonia<80 micromol/L, plasma glutamine<1,000 micromol/L, argininemia 80-150 micromol/L and branched chain amino acids within the normal range, in order to prevent episodes of potentially lethal acute hyperammonemia.


Potentially fatal acute hyperammonemia may occur in male or female patients at any age. Ammonia should be measured promptly in case of acute neurological and psychiatric symptoms or coma.

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