Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract Deficiency of liver arginase (AI) is characterized clinically by hyperargininemia, progressive mental impairment, growth retardation, spasticity, and periodic episodes of hyperammonemia. The rarest of the inborn errors of urea cycle enzymes, it has been considered the least life-threatening, by virtue of the typical absence of catastrophic neonatal hyperammonemia and its compatibility with a longer life span. This has been attributed to the persistence of some ureagenesis in these patients through the activity of a second isozyme of arginase (AII) located predominantly in the kidney. We have treated a number of arginase-deficient patients into young adulthood. While they are severely retarded and wheelchairbound, their general medical care has been quite tractable. Recently, however, two of the oldest (M.U., age 20, and M.O., age 22) underwent rapid deterioration, ending in hyperammonemic coma and death, precipitated by relatively minor viral respiratory illnesses inducing a catabolic state with increased endogenous nitrogen load. In both cases, postmortem examination revealed severe global cerebral edema and aspiration pneumonia. Enzyme assays confirmed the absence of AI activity in the livers of both patients. In contrast, AII activity (identified by its different cation cofactor requirements and lack of precipitation with anti-AI antibody) was markedly elevated in kidney tissues, 20-fold in M.O. and 34-fold in M.U. Terminal plasma arginine (1500μmol/1) and ammonia (1693 mmol/1) levels of M.U. were substantially higher than those of M.O. (348μmol/1 and 259μmol/1, respectively). By Northern blot analysis, AI mRNA was detected in M.O.'s liver but not in M.U.'s; similarly, anti-AI crossreacting material was observed by Western blot in M.O. only. These findings indicate that, despite their more longlived course, patients with arginase deficiency remain vulnerable to the same catastrophic events of hyperammonemia that patients with other urea cycle disorders typically suffer in infancy. Further, unlike those other disorders, an attempt is made to compensate for the primary enzyme deficiency by induction of another isozyme in a different tissue. Such substrate-stimulated induction of an enzyme may be unique in a medical genetics setting and raises novel options for eventual gene therapy of this disorder.
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