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Human phosphofructokinase (PFK; EC 126.96.36.199) exists in tetrameric isozymic forms. Muscle and liver contain the homotetramers M4 and L4, whereas erythrocytes contain five isozymes composed of M (muscle) and L (liver) subunits, i.e., M4, M3L, M2L2, ML3, and L4. Inherited defects of erythrocyte PFK are usually partial and are described in association with heterogeneous clinical syndromes. To define the molecular basis and pathogenesis of this enzymopathy, we investigated four unrelated individuals manifesting myopathy and hemolysis (glycogenosis type VII), isolated hemolysis, or no symptoms at all. The three symptomatic patients showed high-normal hemoglobin levels, despite hemolysis and early-onset hyperuricemia. They showed total lack of muscle-type PFK and suffered from exertional myopathy of varying severity. In the erythrocytes, a metabolic crossover was evident at the PFK step: the levels of hexose monophosphates were elevated and those of 2,3-diphosphoglycerate (2,3-DPG) were depressed, causing strikingly increased hemoglobin-oxygen affinity. In all cases, the residual erythrocyte PFK consisted exclusively of L4 isozyme, indicating homozygosity for the deficiency of the catalytically active M subunit. However, presence of immunoreactive M subunit was shown in cultured fibroblasts by indirect immunofluorescence with monoclonal anti-M antibody. The fourth individual was completely asymptomatic, had normal erythrocyte metabolism, and had no evidence of hemolysis. His residual erythrocyte PFK showed a striking decrease of the L4, ML3, and M2L2 isozymes, secondary to a mutant unstable L subunit. Identical alterations of erythrocyte PFK were found in his asymptomatic son, indicating heterozygosity for the mutant unstable L subunit in this kindred. These studies show that, except for the varying severity of the myopathic symptoms, glycogenosis type VII has highly uniform clinical and biochemical features and results from homozygosity for mutant inactive M subunit(s). The absence of anemia despite hemolysis may be explained by the low 2,3-DPG levels. The hyperuricemia may result from hyperactivity of the hexose monophosphate shunt. In contrast, the clinically silent carrier state results from heterozygosity for mutant M or L subunit. Of the two, the M subunit appears to be more critical for adequate glycolytic flux in the erythrocyte, since its absence is correlated with hemolysis.