Relationship between longitudinal changes in neuropsychological outcome and disease biomarkers in urea cycle disorders

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Pediatric research




BACKGROUND: Urea cycle disorders (UCDs) cause impaired conversion of waste nitrogen to urea leading to rise in glutamine and ammonia. Elevated ammonia and glutamine have been implicated in brain injury. This study assessed relationships between biomarkers of metabolic control and long-term changes in neuropsychological test scores in participants of the longitudinal study of UCDs. The hypothesis was that elevated ammonia and glutamine are associated with neuropsychological impairment. METHODS: Data from 146 participants who completed 2 neuropsychological assessments were analyzed. Neuropsychological tests that showed significant changes in scores over time were identified and associations between score change and interim metabolic biomarker levels were investigated. RESULTS: Participants showed a significant decrease in performance on visual motor integration (VMI) and verbal learning immediate-recall. A decrease in scores was associated with experiencing interim hyperammonemic events (HAE) and frequency of HAE. Outside of HAE there was a significant association between median ammonia levels ≥50µmol/L and impaired VMI. CONCLUSION: VMI and memory encoding are specifically affected in UCDs longitudinally, indicating that patients experience difficulties when required to integrate motor and visual functions and learn new information. Only ammonia biomarkers showed a significant association with impairment. Preventing HAE and controlling ammonia levels is key in UCD management. IMPACT: The Beery-Buktenica Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration (Beery VMI) and List A Trial 5 of the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) may be good longitudinal biomarkers of treatment outcome in urea cycle disorders (UCD). This is the first report of longitudinal biomarkers for treatment outcome in UCD. These two biomarkers of outcome may be useful for clinical trials assessing new treatments for UCD. These results will also inform educators how to design interventions directed at improving learning in individuals with UCDs.


Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences