Characterisation and differential diagnosis of neurological complications in adults with phenylketonuria: literature review and expert opinion

Martin Merkel*, Daniela Berg, Norbert Brüggemann, Joseph Classen, Tina Mainka, Simone Zittel, Ania C. Muntau

*Corresponding author for this work
1 Citation (Scopus)


Objective: Phenylketonuria (PKU) is a rare inherited metabolic disorder characterised by elevated phenylalanine (Phe) concentrations that can exert neurotoxic effects if untreated or upon treatment discontinuation. This systematic review supported by expert opinion aims to raise awareness among the neurological community on neurological complications experienced by adults with PKU (AwPKU). Methods: The PubMed database was searched for articles on neurological signs and symptoms in AwPKU published before March 2022. In addition, two virtual advisory boards were held with a panel of seven neurologists and two metabolic physicians from Germany and Austria. Findings are supported by three illustrative patient cases. Results: Thirty-nine articles were included. Despite early diagnosis and treatment, neurological signs and symptoms (e.g. ataxia, brisk tendon reflexes, tremor, visual impairment) can emerge in adulthood, especially if treatment has been discontinued after childhood. In PKU, late-onset neurological deficits often co-occur with cognitive impairment and psychiatric symptoms, all of which can be completely or partially reversed through resumption of treatment. Conclusion: Ideally, neurologists should be part of the PKU multidisciplinary team, either to bring lost to follow-up patients back to clinic or to manage symptoms in referred patients, considering that symptoms are often reversible upon regaining metabolic control. The current findings have been combined in a leaflet that will be disseminated among neurologists in Germany and Austria to create awareness.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neurology
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)3675-3687
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 08.2023

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)

DFG Research Classification Scheme

  • 206-07 Clinical Neurology Neurosurgery and Neuroradiology

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