Ornithine Transcarbamylase Deficiency




Ornithine Transcarbamylase Deficiency ( OTCD) is an inherited disorder that causes ammonia to accumulate in the blood. Ammonia, which is formed when proteins are broken down in the body, is toxic if the levels become too high. The nervous system is especially sensitive to the effects of excess ammonia. Ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency often becomes evident in the first few days of life. An infant with ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency may be lacking in energy (lethargic) or unwilling to eat, and have poorly-controlled breathing rate or body temperature. Some babies with this disorder may experience seizures or unusual body movements, or go into a coma. Complications from ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency may include developmental delay and intellectual disability. Progressive liver damage, skin lesions, and brittle hair may also be seen.


Like other urea cycle disorders, OTC affects the body's ability to get rid of ammonia, a toxic breakdown product of the body's use of protein. As a result, ammonia accumulates in the blood causing hyperammonemia. This ammonia travels to the various organs of the body. Another symptom of OTC is a buildup of orotic acid in the blood. This is due to an anapleurosis that occurs with carbamoyl phosphate entering the pyrimidine synthesis pathway.


A definitive diagnosis of OTC deficiency is made by laboratory tests, since physical synptoms are very general and common to a large number of disorders. A high level of ammonia in the blood is the hallmark of this disorder and other disorders that affect the urea cycle. In the short term, the levels of two amino acids in the urine, orotate and citrulline, should distinguish between OTC deficiency and other urea cycle deficiencies. In OTC deficiency, citrulline levels are normal or low, and orotate levels are usually high. In the long term, however, the most definitive diagnosis can be made through DNA analysis, or through a test of OTC activity in a small piece of liver tissue (a biopsy) taken from the patient. Prenatal diagnosis of the disorder is difficult and not indicated unless there is an affected family member with the disorder. In that case, if the mutation is known, DNA analysis would reveal the same mutation as in the family member with OTC deficiency. If the mutation is not known, a method called linkage analysis may be used. In linkage analysis, the OTC gene itself is not analyzed, but the DNA near the gene is analyzed. The "near DNA" can then be compared to the "near DNA" of the affected family member. If the DNAs are different, then the fetus should not have the disorder. If they are the same, then the fetus probably has the disorder.


Only 50% of the most severely affected patients live beyond the time they first attend school. Of those receiving liver transplants, 82% of patients survive five years after receiving the transplant. Children with the severe disorder that receive drug therapy are much more likely to experience mental retardation, developmental delay, and a lack of growth. Also, many infants who experience hyperammonemic comas have severe mental damage. For individuals not identified at birth or soon after, the prognosis varies widely. The consequences of the disorder are affected by the severity of the disorder and how it is managed, although anyone with the disorder may experience life-threatening attacks of acute hyperammonemia. In terms of long-term survival, puberty appears to be a difficult time for those with OTC deficiency, and persons who survive until after puberty have improved outcomes. The prognosis for this disorder can vary from quite hopeful to very distressing based upon its severity and how well the disorder can be controlled. A severe disorder that is well-controlled may still have a positive outcome.


Since the disease results in an inability to handle large amounts of nitrogen load, the treatment includes strategies to decrease the intake of nitrogen (low-protein diet), prevention of excessive body protein breakdown during acute illnesses (hydration and nutrition) and administration of medications scavenging nitrogen (sodium benzoate and sodium phenylbutyrate). Some patients may need to have supplemental amino acids (arginine, citrulline, valine, leucine, isoleucine). In cases where the OTC enzyme production is very low or non-existent and treatment consisting of low-protein diet and dietary supplementation are inadequate, liver transplant may become a treatment option.