Journal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition

Hepatocyte glycogen accumulation in patients undergoing dietary management of urea cycle defects mimics storage disease.

PMID 15795597


Anecdotal reports have described excess hepatocyte glycogen in patients with urea cycle enzyme defects. Retrospectively, the authors evaluated the prevalence and possible cause of liver glycogen accumulation in such patients. The authors searched the files of the Division of Pathology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital from 1975 and 2004 for cases of urea cycle enzyme defects and identified 11 patients who had had liver biopsy performed and/or liver transplantation. All patients were on diets containing essential amino acids as the protein source before liver biopsy and/or transplantation. All but one patient had focal or diffuse glycogen accumulation in hepatocytes in at least one specimen by light microscopic examination. Two young infants also had cholestasis. Electron microscopy performed on six patients showed diffuse or focal glycogen excess in the cytoplasm of individual hepatocytes. Biochemical studies of three patients revealed two with hepatic glycogen content in the upper normal range and one that was abnormally high. Glycolytic enzyme activities were normal in two patients, and one patient had low phosphorylase activity. Hepatocyte glycogen accumulation in urea cycle enzyme defects resembles that seen in glycogen storage disease but can be distinguished in most cases by non-uniformity of distribution and/or the absence of sinusoidal compression by expanded hepatocytes. We speculate that therapeutic modification of dietary protein content by restriction to essential amino acids, including leucine, may promote glycogen accumulation by increasing insulin secretion.