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High phenylalanine levels directly affect mood and sustained attention in adults with phenylketonuria: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial

Journal of Inherited Metabolic Disease
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1007/s10545-010-9253-9
  • Original Article
  • Design
  • Psychology


The main debate in the treatment of Phenylketonuria (PKU) is whether adult patients need the strict phenylalanine (Phe)-restricted diet. Physicians and patients lack evidence-based guidelines to help them make well-informed choices. We have carried out the first randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial into the effects of short-term elevation of Phe levels on neuropsychological functions and mood of adults with PKU. Nine continuously treated adults with PKU underwent two 4-week supplementation periods: one with Phe, mimicking normal dietary intake, and one with placebo in randomly allocated order via a randomisation coding list in a double-blind cross-over design. A set of neuropsychological tests (Amsterdam Neuropsychological Tasks) was administered at the end of each study period. In addition, patients and for each patient a friend or relative, completed weekly Profile of Mood States (POMS) questionnaires, evaluating the patients’ mood. Phe levels were measured twice weekly. Mean plasma Phe levels were significantly higher during Phe supplementation compared with placebo (p = 0.008). Neuropsychological tests demonstrated an impairment in sustained attention during Phe supplementation (p = 0.029). Both patients and their friend or relative reported lower scores on the POMS questionnaires during Phe supplementation (p = 0.017 and p = 0.040, respectively). High plasma Phe levels have a direct negative effect on both sustained attention and on mood in adult patients with PKU. A Phe-restricted “diet for life” might be an advisable option for many.

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