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Isolated Methylmalonic Acidemia.


GeneReviews® [Internet]. Seattle (WA): University of Washington, Seattle; 1993-2020.
2005 Aug 16 [updated 2016 Dec 1].

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Genetics and Molecular Biology Branch, National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland



Isolated methylmalonic acidemia/aciduria, the topic of this GeneReview, is caused by complete or partial deficiency of the enzyme methylmalonyl-CoA mutase (mut0 enzymatic subtype or mut enzymatic subtype, respectively), a defect in the transport or synthesis of its cofactor, adenosyl-cobalamin (cblA, cblB, or cblD-MMA), or deficiency of the enzyme methylmalonyl-CoA epimerase. Onset of the manifestations of isolated methylmalonic acidemia/aciduria ranges from the neonatal period to adulthood. All phenotypes are characterized by periods of relative health and intermittent metabolic decompensation, usually associated with intercurrent infections and stress. In the neonatal period the disease can present with lethargy, vomiting, hypotonia, hypothermia, respiratory distress, severe ketoacidosis, hyperammonemia, neutropenia, and thrombocytopenia and can result in death within the first four weeks of life. In the infantile/non-B12-responsive phenotype, infants are normal at birth, but develop lethargy, vomiting, dehydration, failure to thrive, hepatomegaly, hypotonia, and encephalopathy within a few weeks to months of age. An intermediate B12-responsive phenotype can occasionally be observed in neonates, but is usually observed in the first months or years of life; affected children exhibit anorexia, failure to thrive, hypotonia, and developmental delay, and sometimes have protein aversion and/or vomiting and lethargy after protein intake. Atypical and "benign"/adult methylmalonic acidemia phenotypes are associated with increased, albeit mild, urinary excretion of methylmalonate. Major secondary complications of methylmalonic acidemia include: intellectual impairment (variable); tubulointerstitial nephritis with progressive renal failure; "metabolic stroke" (acute and chronic basal ganglia injury) causing a disabling movement disorder with choreoathetosis, dystonia, and para/quadriparesis; pancreatitis; growth failure; functional immune impairment; and optic nerve atrophy.


Diagnosis of isolated methylmalonic acidemia relies on analysis of organic acids in plasma and/or urine by gas-liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. Establishing the specific subtype of methylmalonic acidemia requires cellular biochemical studies (including 14C propionate incorporation and B12 responsiveness, complementation analysis, and cobalamin distribution assays) and molecular genetic testing. The finding of biallelic pathogenic variants in one of the five genes (MMUT, MMAA, MMAB, MCEE, and MMADHC) associated with isolated methylmalonic acidemia – with confirmation of carrier status in the parents – can establish the diagnosis.


Treatment of manifestations: Critically ill individuals are stabilized by restoring volume status and acid-base balance; reducing or eliminating protein intake; providing increased calories via high glucose-containing fluids and insulin to arrest catabolism; and monitoring serum electrolytes and ammonia, venous or arterial blood gases, and urine output. Management includes a high-calorie diet low in propiogenic amino acid precursors; hydroxocobalamin intramuscular injections; carnitine supplementation; antibiotics such as neomycin or metronidazole to reduce propionate production from gut flora; gastrostomy tube placement as needed; and aggressive treatment of infections. Other therapies used in a limited number of patients include N-carbamylglutamate for the treatment of acute hyperammonemic episodes; liver, kidney, or combined liver and kidney transplantation; and antioxidants for the treatment of optic nerve atrophy. Prevention of primary manifestations: In some cases, newborn screening allows for presymptomatic detection of affected newborns and early treatment. Agents/circumstances to avoid: Fasting and increased dietary protein. Other: Medic Alert® bracelets and up-to-date, easily accessed, detailed emergency treatment protocols facilitate care.


Isolated methylmalonic acidemia is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner. At conception, each sib of an affected individual has a 25% chance of being affected, a 50% chance of being an asymptomatic carrier, and a 25% chance of being unaffected and not a carrier. Carrier testing for at-risk family members and prenatal testing for pregnancies at increased risk are possible using molecular genetic techniques if the pathogenic variants in the family are known. In some circumstances, prenatal diagnosis for pregnancies at increased risk is possible by enzyme analysis and metabolite measurements on cultured fetal cells (obtained by chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis).

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