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Predictability and inconsistencies of cognitive outcome in patients with phenylketonuria and personalised therapy: the challenge for the future guidelines


Phenylketonuria (PKU) is a prototypical model of a neurodevelopmental metabolic disease that follows a cascade of pathological events affecting brain maturation and functioning. Neonatal screening and early treatment have eradicated the classical PKU phenotype in patients with early and continuously treated phenylketonuria (ECTPKU). However, effort is required to optimise the treatment of the disease to minimise the risk of lifelong neurological, cognitive and behavioural impairment, and to solve issues on the variability in clinical outcome that are rather not understood and has yet hampered a more personalised approach to its treatment. The aim of the present review is to focus on the inconsistencies in the clinical outcome of adult patients with ECTPKU unexplained by the biochemical markers adopted for the monitoring of the disease to date. The interindividual variability of clinical outcome in late as well as in early treated patients under similar biochemical control suggests the existence of disease-independent determinants influencing the individual vulnerability to the neurotoxic effect of phenylalanine. This is further supported by the low predictive power of blood phenylalanine on the clinical outcome from the second decade of life onwards. In conclusion, individual vulnerability to the metabolic alterations of PKU contributes to the prognosis of PKU, also in patients with ECTPKU. The biological factors constitutive of this vulnerability are unknown (but have not been the object of many studies so far) and should be the target of further research as prerequisite for a personalised treatment aimed at avoiding burden and costs of overtreatment and clinical consequences and risks of undertreatment in patients with PKU.

  • phenylketonuria
  • personalized treatment
  • clinical outcome
  • variability
  • vulnerability

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