Biochemical correlates of neuropsychiatric illness in maple syrup urine disease

Maple syrup urine disease (MSUD) is an inherited disorder of branched chain amino acid metabolism presenting with neonatal encephalopathy, episodic metabolic decompensation, and chronic amino acid imbalances. Dietary management enables survival and reduces risk of acute crises. Liver transplantation has emerged as an effective way to eliminate acute decompensation risk. Psychiatric illness is a reported MSUD complication, but has not been well characterized and remains poorly understood. We report the prevalence and characteristics of neuropsychiatric problems among 37 classical MSUD patients (ages 5–35 years, 26 on dietary therapy, 11 after liver transplantation) and explore their underlying mechanisms. Compared with 26 age-matched controls, MSUD patients were at higher risk for disorders of cognition, attention, and mood. Using quantitative proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, we found lower brain glutamate, N-acetylaspartate (NAA), and creatine concentrations in MSUD patients, which correlated with specific neuropsychiatric outcomes. Asymptomatic neonatal course and stringent longitudinal biochemical control proved fundamental to optimizing long-term mental health. Neuropsychiatric morbidity and neurochemistry were similar among transplanted and nontransplanted MSUD patients. In conclusion, amino acid dysregulation results in aberrant neural networks with neurochemical deficiencies that persist after transplant and correlate with neuropsychiatric morbidities. These findings may provide insight into general mechanisms of psychiatric illness.