We previously proposed a novel disease entity, tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4)-responsive phenylalanine hydroxylase (PAH) deficiency, in which administration of BH4 reduced elevated levels of serum phenylalanine [J. Pediatr. 135 (1999) 375-378]. Subsequent reports indicate that the prevalence of BH4-responsive PAH deficiency is much higher than initially anticipated. Although growing attention surrounds treatment with BH4, little is known about the mechanism of BH4 responsiveness. An early report indicates that BH4 concentration in rat liver was 5 microM where Km for BH4 of rat PAH was estimated to be 25 microM in an oxidation experiment using a liver slice, suggesting relative insufficiency of BH4 in liver in vivo. In the present study, we developed a breath test for mice using [1-13C]phenylalanine in order to examine the BH4 responsiveness of normal PAH in vivo. The reliability of the test was verified using BTBR mice and its mutant strain lacking PAH activity, Pahenu2. BH4 supplementation significantly enhanced 13CO2 production in C57BL/6 mice when phenylalanine was pre-loaded. Furthermore, BH4 apparently activated PAH in just 5 min. These observations suggest that submaximal PAH activity occurs at the physiological concentrations of BH4 in vivo, and that PAH activity can be rapidly enhanced by supplementation with BH4. Thus, we propose a possible hypothesis that the responsiveness to BH4 in patients with PAH deficiency is due to the fact that suboptimal physiological concentrations of BH4 are normally present in hepatocytes and the enhancement of the residual activity may be associated with a wide range of mutations.
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