Impaired arachidonic (20:4n-6) and docosahexaenoic (22:6n-3) acid synthesis by phenylalanine metabolites as etiological factors in the neuropathology of phenylketonuria.
Mol Genet Metab. 2001 Mar;72(3):185-98. PMID: 11243724
The recent literature on polyunsaturated fatty acid metabolism in phenylketonuria (PKU) is critically analyzed. The data suggest that developmental impairment of the accretion of brain arachidonic (20:4n-6) and docosahexaenoic (22:6n-3, DHA) acids is a major etiological factor in the microcephaly and mental retardation of uncontrolled PKU and maternal PKU. These fatty acids appear to be synthesized by the recently elucidated carnitine-dependent, channeled, mitochondrial fatty acid desaturases for which alpha-tocopherolquinone (alpha-TQ) is an essential enzyme cofactor. alpha-TQ can be synthesized either de novo or from alpha-tocopherol. The fetus and newborn would primarily rely on de novo alpha-TQ synthesis for these mitochondrial desaturases because of low maternal transfer of alpha-tocopherol. Homogentisate, a pivotal intermediate in the de novo pathway of alpha-TQ synthesis, is synthesized by 4-hydroxyphenylpyruvate dioxygenase. The major catabolic products of excess phenylalanine, viz. phenylpyruvate and phenyllactate, are proposed to inhibit alpha-TQ synthesis at the level of the dioxygenase reaction by competing with its 4-hydroxyphenylpyruvate substrate, thus leading to a developmental impairment of 20:4n-6 and 22:6n-3 synthesis in uncontrolled PKU and fetuses of PKU mothers. The data suggest that dietary supplementation with carnitine, 20:4n-6, and 22:6n-3 may have therapeutic value for PKU mothers and for PKU patients who have been shown to have a low plasma status of these essential metabolites. Copyright 2001 Academic Press.