The Urea Cycle Disorders

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The urea cycle is the primary nitrogen-disposal pathway in humans. It requires the coordinated function of six enzymes and two mitochondrial transporters to catalyze the conversion of a molecule of ammonia, the α-nitrogen of aspartate, and bicarbonate into urea. Whereas ammonia is toxic, urea is relatively inert, soluble in water, and readily excreted by the kidney in the urine. Accumulation of ammonia and other toxic intermediates of the cycle lead to predominantly neurologic sequelae. The disorders may present at any age from the neonatal period to adulthood, with the more severely affected patients presenting earlier in life. Patients are at risk for metabolic decompensation throughout life, often triggered by illness, fasting, surgery and postoperative states, peripartum, stress, and increased exogenous protein load. Here the authors address neurologic presentations of ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency in detail, the most common of the urea cycle disorders, neuropathology, neurophysiology, and our studies in neuroimaging. Special attention to late-onset presentations is given.

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