Other Names:
Fölling's disease

Phenylketonuria (PKU) is an inborn error of metabolism that results in decreased metabolism of the amino acid phenylalanine. Untreated PKU can lead to intellectual disability, seizures, behavioral problems, and mental disorders. It may also result in a musty smell and lighter skin. A baby born to a mother who has poorly treated PKU may have heart problems, a small head, and low birth weight.

Phenylketonuria is an inherited genetic disorder. It is caused by mutations in the PAH gene, which can result in inefficient or nonfunctional phenylalanine hydroxylase, an enzyme responsible for the metabolism of excess phenylalanine. This results in the buildup of dietary phenylalanine to potentially toxic levels. It is autosomal recessive, meaning that both copies of the gene must be mutated for the condition to develop. There are two main types, classic PKU and variant PKU, depending on whether any enzyme function remains. Those with one copy of a mutated gene typically do not have symptoms. Many countries have newborn screening programs for the disease.

Treatment is with a diet that (1) is low in foods that contain phenylalanine, and which (2) includes special supplements. Babies should use a special formula with a small amount of breast milk. The diet should begin as soon as possible after birth and be continued for life. People who are diagnosed early and maintain a strict diet can have normal health and a normal life span. Effectiveness is monitored through periodic blood tests. The medication sapropterin dihydrochloride may be useful in some.

Phenylketonuria affects about 1 in 12,000 babies. Males and females are affected equally. The disease was discovered in 1934 by Ivar Asbjørn Følling, with the importance of diet determined in 1935. As of 2023, genetic therapies that aim to directly restore liver PAH activity are a promising and active research field.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being
Problem Type:
G: Very specific problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST