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Maternal phenylketonuria: report from the United Kingdom Registry 1978–97
  1. P J Lee1,
  2. D Ridout2,
  3. J H Walter3,
  4. F Cockburn4
  1. 1The Charles Dent Metabolic Unit, The National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery, London, UK
  2. 2Centre for Paediatric Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Institute of Child Health, 30 Guilford Street, London, UK
  3. 3The Willink Biochemical Genetics Unit, Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, Pendlebury, Manchester, UK
  4. 4Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Yorkhill, Glasgow, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr P Lee
    The Charles Dent Metabolic Unit, Post Box 92, The National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK;


Background: The effects of maternal phenylalanine on the fetus include facial dysmorphism, microcephaly, intrauterine growth retardation, developmental delay, and congenital heart disease.

Aims: To evaluate the impact of phenylalanine restricted diet in pregnant women with phenylketonuria (PKU) on their offspring.

Methods: Data on virtually all pregnancies of women with PKU in the United Kingdom between 1978 and 1997 were reported to the United Kingdom PKU Registry. The effect of the use and timing in relation to pregnancy of a phenylalanine restricted diet on birth weight, birth head circumference, the presence or absence of congenital heart disease (CHD), 4 year developmental quotient, and 8 year intelligence quotient were examined.

Results: A total of 228 pregnancies resulted in live births (seven twin pregnancies were excluded). In 110 (50%), diet started before conception. For this group mean (SD) birth weight was 3160 (612) g, birth head circumference 33.6 (1.9) cm, 4 year DQ 108.9 (13.2), 8 year IQ 103.4 (15.6), and incidence of CHD was 2.4%. In comparison, for those born where treatment was started during pregnancy (n = 91), birth weight was 2818 (711) g, birth head circumference 32.7 (2.0) cm, 4 year DQ 96.8 (15.0), 8 year IQ 86.5 (13.0), and incidence of CHD was 17%. Month-by-month regression analyses suggested that metabolic control by 12–16 weeks gestation had most influence on outcome.

Conclusions: Many features of the maternal PKU syndrome are preventable by starting a phenylalanine restricted diet. Women with PKU and their carers must be aware of the risks and should start the diet before conception, or as soon after as possible.

  • CHD, coronary heart disease
  • DQ, development quotient
  • IQ, intelligence quotient
  • PKU, phenylketonuria
  • maternal phenylketonuria
  • phenylalanine
  • pregnancy
  • outcome

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