Annals of clinical biochemistry

Reference data for cerebrospinal fluid and the utility of amino acid measurement for the diagnosis of inborn errors of metabolism.

PMID 16390611


Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) amino acid analysis is fundamental to the investigation of several inherited metabolic diseases, particularly those presenting with unexplained seizures. CSF glycine measurement is often crucial to the diagnosis of glycine encephalopathy (GE), low CSF serine concentrations are characteristic of 3-phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase deficiency (3-PGDD) and the presence of sulphocysteine is pathognomonic of sulphite oxidase deficiency (SOD), and a vital clue to molybdenum cofactor deficiency (MCD). Limited information is available in the literature on reference values of amino acids in CSF during infancy and CSF samples from healthy individuals are not easily obtained. In order to establish paediatric CSF amino acid reference ranges, we performed a retrospective analysis of all quantitative CSF amino acid data collected in our laboratory over a five-year period. Amino acid analysis was performed using ion-exchange chromatography on a Biochrom-20 amino acid analyser with ninhydrin detection. CSF samples were collected from infants undergoing investigation for unexplained seizures. About 18 of the 95 samples received were excluded from the reference data-set; one was from a patient in whom a diagnosis of GE was confirmed by enzyme analysis, one was from a patient with CSF sulphocysteine of 19 micromol/L in whom a diagnosis of SOD was confirmed by enzyme analysis; the remaining 16 were clearly bloodstained (n = 4) or xanthochromic (n = 12). Frequency of distribution analysis revealed that concentration values for each amino acid demonstrated a right-skewed distribution which was not normalized by log transformation. Data were therefore analysed using non-parametric descriptive statistics and reference ranges were defined by the 2.5th and 97.5th centile limits. Our reference data were derived from 77 CSF samples taken from 77 infants. Median CSF glycine concentration was 9 micromol/L with a reference range of 3-19 micromol/L. For serine, the median CSF concentration was 52 micromol/L with a reference range of 25-105 micromol/L. Sulphocysteine was not normally present in detectable quantities (<1 micromol/L).