, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 65-72
Date: 25 Oct 2008

Tetrahydrobiopterin deficiency in human rabies

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Rabies is a fatal viral encephalitis characterized by a clinically acute and progressive course. With rare exceptions, there is a discrepancy between clinical outcome and frank histological alterations in rabies. Investigators have postulated that rabies virus may modify neurotransmission through occupancy of cellular receptors or alteration of ion channels. We took advantage of these observations to improvise a successful therapy for rabies. The Milwaukee protocol (www.mcw.edu/rabies) was further modified to treat two German patients. We measured pterins and monoamine neurotransmitter metabolites in the CSF of patients with rabies by HPLC with electrochemical or fluorescent detection. We report loss of tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4) and associated pathological decrease of dopaminergic and serotoninergic neurotransmission in three successive patients with rabies. CSF levels of BH4 and neurotransmitter metabolites increased in two patients who were supplemented. Our findings support the long-standing speculation of modified neurotransmission in the pathogenesis of rabies, but by another mechanism. Brain turnover of dopamine and serotonin is reduced following rabies-acquired BH4 deficiency. Neuronal nitric oxide synthase is BH4-dependent and may also be involved, possibly causing cerebrovascular insufficiency in one patient. This work must be carefully replicated in animal models and future patients. We are cautiously optimistic at the prospect of readily available, metabolically specific, enteral therapy for rabies.

Communicating editor: Beat Thöny
Competing interests: None declared
References to electronic databases: Dihydropteridine reductase (EC; GTP cyclohydrolase I (EC; nitric oxide synthase (EC; phenylalanine hydroxylase (EC; 6-pyruvoyl-tetrahydrobiopterin synthase (EC; sepiapterin reductase (EC; tyrosine hydroxylase (EC; tryptophan hydroxylase (
The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of their institutions.
Presented at the International Conference on Tetrahydrobiopterin, PKU, and NOS, 23–28 March 2008, St Moritz, Champfér, Switzerland.