Branched-chain α-ketoacid dehydrogenase deficiency (maple syrup urine disease): Treatment, biomarkers, and outcomes

Over the past three decades, we studied 184 individuals with 174 different molecular variants of branched-chain α-ketoacid dehydrogenase activity, and here delineate essential clinical and biochemical aspects of the maple syrup urine disease (MSUD) phenotype. We collected data about treatment, survival, hospitalization, metabolic control, and liver transplantation from patients with classic (i.e., severe; n = 176), intermediate (n = 6) and intermittent (n = 2) forms of MSUD. A total of 13,589 amino acid profiles were used to analyze leucine tolerance, amino acid homeostasis, estimated cerebral amino acid uptake, quantitative responses to anabolic therapy, and metabolic control after liver transplantation. Standard instruments were used to measure neuropsychiatric outcomes. Despite advances in clinical care, classic MSUD remains a morbid and potentially fatal disorder. Stringent dietary therapy maintains metabolic variables within acceptable limits but is challenging to implement, fails to restore appropriate concentration relationships among circulating amino acids, and does not fully prevent cognitive and psychiatric disabilities. Liver transplantation eliminates the need for a prescription diet and safeguards patients from life-threatening metabolic crises, but is associated with predictable morbidities and does not reverse pre-existing neurological sequelae. There is a critical unmet need for safe and effective disease-modifying therapies for MSUD which can be implemented early in life. The biochemistry and physiology of MSUD and its response to liver transplantation afford key insights into the design of new therapies based on gene replacement or editing.