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In phenylketonuria (PKU), the enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase is deficient, resulting in a decreased conversion of phenylalanine (Phe) into tyrosine (Tyr). The severity of the disease is expressed as the tolerance for Phe at 5 yr of age. In PKU patients it is assumed that the decreased conversion of Phe into Tyr is directly correlated with the tolerance for Phe. We investigated this correlation by an in vivo stable isotope study. The in vivo residual hydroxylation was quantitated using a primed continuous infusion of L-[ring- 2H5]Phe and L-[1-13C]Tyr and the determination of the isotopic enrichments of L-[ring-2H5]Phe, L-[ring-2H4]Tyr, and L-[1-13C]Tyr in plasma. Previous reports by Thompson and coworkers (Thompson, G.N., and D. Halliday. 1990. J. Clin. Invest. 86:317-322; Thompson, G.N., J.H. Walter, J.V. Leonard, and D. Halliday. 1990. Metabolism. 39:799-807; Treacy, E., J.J. Pitt, K. Seller, G.N. Thompson, S. Ramus, and R.G.H. Cotton. 1996. J. Inherited Metab. Dis. 19:595- 602), applying the same technique, showed normal in vivo hydroxylation rates of Phe in almost all PKU patients. Therefore, our study was divided up in two parts. First, the method was re-evaluated. Second, the correlation between the in vivo hydroxylation of Phe and the tolerance for Phe was tested in seven classical PKU patients. Very low (0.13- 0.95 micromol/kg per hour) and normal (4.11 and 6.33 micromol/kg per hour) conversion rates were found in patients and controls, respectively. Performing the infusion study twice in the same patient and wash-out studies of the labels at the end of the experiment in a patient and control showed that the method is applicable in PKU patients and gives consistent data. No significant correlation was observed between the in vivo hydroxylation rates and the tolerances. The results of this study, therefore, showed that within the group of patients with classical PKU, the tolerance does not depend on the in vivo hydroxylation.