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Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2006 Nov;8(6):441-50.

Diagnosis and treatment of neurotransmitter disorders.

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Department of Neurology, Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, DC 20010, USA.


The neurotransmitter disorders represent an enigmatic and enlarging group of neurometabolic conditions caused by abnormal neurotransmitter metabolism or transport. A high index of clinical suspicion is important, given the availability of therapeutic strategies. This article covers disorders of monoamine (catecholamine and serotonin) synthesis, glycine catabolism, pyridoxine dependency, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) metabolism. The technological aspects of appropriate cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) collection, shipment, study, and interpretation merit special consideration. Diagnosis of disorders of monoamines requires analysis of CSF homovanillic acid, 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid, ortho-methyldopa, BH4, and neopterin. The delineation of new disorders with important therapeutic implications, such as cerebral folate deficiency and PNPO deficiency, serves to highlight the value of measuring CSF neurotransmitter precursors and metabolites. The impressive responsiveness of Segawa fluctuating dystonia to levodopa is a hallmark feature of previously unrecognized neurologic morbidity becoming treatable at any age. Aromatic amino acid decarboxylase and tyrosine hydroxylase deficiency have more severe phenotypes and show variable responsiveness to levodopa. Glycine encephalopathy usually has a poor outcome; benzoate therapy may be helpful in less affected cases. Pyridoxine-dependent seizures are a refractory but treatable group of neonatal and infantile seizures; rare cases require pyridoxal-5-phosphate. Succinic semialdehyde dehydrogenase deficiency is relatively common in comparison to the remainder of this group of disorders. Treatment directed at the metabolic defect with vigabatrin has been disappointing, and multiple therapies are targeted toward specific but protean symptoms. Other disorders of GABA metabolism, as is true of the wide spectrum of neurotransmitter disorders, will require increasing use of CSF analysis for diagnosis, and ultimately, treatment.

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