It is now widely accepted that tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4), the natural cofactor of aromatic amino acid hydroxylases, in the absence of its regenerating enzyme dihydropteridine reductase (DHPR), will function only stoichiometrically in the phenylalanine (Phe) hydroxylating system. This has limited the use of pterin cofactor in diagnosis and treatment of patients suffering from inherited DHPR deficiency, one of the most common forms of hyperphenylalaninemia caused by BH4 deficiency. This is despite the observation of a dramatic fall in serum Phe concentration after BH4 loading in such patients. In this study, quantitation of this phenomenon was obtained by comparing the kinetics of serum Phe after either a simple Phe or a combined Phe plus BH4 oral loading in patients with Phe hydroxylase or with DHPR deficiency. Only in the latter was the total body clearance of Phe enhanced up to 5 times by the cofactor administration, resulting in the molar equivalent of Phe hydroxylated/mol of BH4 ranging from at least 6 to 10, against the postulated 1. As a consequence, BH4 administration should be attempted therapeutically in DHPR-deficient patients, thus avoiding a lifelong Phe-restricted diet. Preliminary experience with such treatment is given with two cases.
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