Phenylketonuria (PKU) and benign hyperphenylalaninaemia (HPA) result from a variety of mutations in the gene for the hepatic enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase. PKU has been found in the Israeli population in two variants, classical and atypical. The two are clinically indistinguishable and require treatment with low phenylalanine diet to prevent mental retardation, but show differences in serum phenylalanine levels and in tolerance to this amino acid. Maternal PKU is a syndrome of congenital anomalies and mental retardation that appears in offspring of PKU mothers as a result of fetal exposure to the high phenylalanine level in the maternal blood. We studied a family in which two children with severe, classical PKU and their unaffected brother showed mild signs of maternal PKU. Their mother had no clinical signs of PKU, but the phenylalanine concentration in her serum reached a level that usually characterises PKU patients. This woman represents a rare phenotype, benign atypical PKU. Such 'hidden' PKU in women may lead to maternal PKU in the offspring, similar to overt PKU. Special attention should therefore be paid to women having children with any of the clinical hallmarks of maternal PKU, and to children born to women known to have benign HPA. The mother was also found to be homozygous for a missense mutation at the phenylalanine hydroxylase locus, R261Q, which does not abolish enzymatic activity completely. In two other families, homozygosity for this mutation resulted in atypical PKU in four children. This observation suggests that mutations that do not completely destroy phenylalanine hydroxylase activity may exhibit variable phenotypic expression which is unpredictable. Compound heterozygosity for R261Q and other mutations led in other patients either to classical PKU or to mild benign HPA.
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