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Hyperornithinemia-hyperammonemia-homocitrullinuria syndrome

Synonym(s) HHH syndrome
ORNT1 deficiency
Ornithine carrier deficiency
Ornithine translocase deficiency
Triple H syndrome
Prevalence 1-5 / 10 000
Inheritance Autosomal recessive
Age of onset Childhood
  • E72.4
  • C0268540
MeSH -
MedDRA -


Disease definition

Hyperornithinemia-hyperammonemia-homocitrullinuria syndrome (triple H syndrome) is a disorder of urea cycle metabolism characterized by either a neonatal-onset with manifestations of lethargy, poor feeding, vomiting and tachypnea or, more commonly, presentations in infancy, childhood or adulthood with chronic neurocognitive deficits, acute encephalopathy and/or chronic liver dysfunction.


More than 100 cases have been reported in the literature to date. The prevalence in Northern Saskatchewan, Canada is especially high due to a founder effect and is estimated in this population at 1/1550 live births.

Clinical description

Age of onset can range from the neonatal period to adulthood and a wide phenotypic spectrum is noted. The neonatal presentation usually begins a few days after birth with lethargy, somnolence, refusal to feed, vomiting, tachypnea with respiratory alkalosis, and/or seizures. Onset of symptoms (ranging from mild to severe) in the majority of patients occurs in infancy, childhood and adulthood with episodes of confusion, forgetfulness, hyperammonemic coma, intellectual disability, developmental delay, spastic paraplegia, cerebellar ataxia, learning difficulties, unexplained seizures, liver dysfunction (rarely failure) and coagulopathy with factor VII-, IX- and X-deficiencies. An aversion to protein-rich foods before diagnosis is often reported.


Triple H syndrome is due to mutations in the SLC25A15 gene (13q14) encoding the mitochondrial ornithine transporter 1 (ORNT1) which plays a role in ornithine transport across the mitochondrial membrane and consecutively in mitochondrial protein synthesis, metabolism of arginine and lysine, and synthesis of polyamines. Mutations in this protein disrupt the urea cycle, resulting in hyperornithinemia, hyperammonemia and homocitrullinuria. Patients with a complete ORNT1 deficiency present in the neonatal period with severe hyperammonemia whereas those with a partial deficiency present later in infancy to adulthood.

Diagnostic methods

Diagnosis is based on clinical findings and specific metabolic abnormalities. Laboratory tests usually reveal increased urinary excretion of orotic acid, homocitrulline and uracil, and a rise in the levels of plasma polyamines, ornithine, glutamine, alanine, and liver transaminases. Plasma ammonia levels are elevated episodically or postprandially and plasma ornithine is chronically elevated and is a hallmark of the disease. Molecular genetic testing confirms diagnosis.

Differential diagnosis

Differential diagnosis includes other urea cycle disorders as well as lysinuric protein intolerance (see these terms). Hyperinsulinism-hyperammonemia syndrome, pyruvate carboxylase deficiency (see these terms) and secondary causes of hyperammonemia should also be considered.

Antenatal diagnosis

Prenatal diagnosis is possible in families with a known disease causing mutation on both alleles.

Genetic counseling

Triple H syndrome is inherited autosomal recessively and genetic counseling is advised.

Management and treatment

Treatment involves the adherence to a low protein diet along with citrulline or arginine supplementation. In resistant cases, sodium benzoate and phenylbutyrate may be necessary for control of plasma ammonia levels. Patients should be monitored during times of stress (e.g. pregnancy, surgery, intercurrent infections) and when taking certain medications (i.e. corticosteroids) as they can trigger an episode of hyperammonemia. Hyperammonemic coma is treated in a tertiary care center where plasma ammonia levels must be lowered (by hemodialysis or hemofiltration), ammonia scavenger therapy implemented, catabolism reversed (with glucose and lipid infusions) and special care taken to reduce the risk of neurological damage.


With early diagnosis and proper adherence to treatment protocol the prognosis is better than for most other urea cycle defects. However, patients remain at risk for metabolic decompensation throughout life and irreversible neurological complications can occur if treatment is delayed.

Expert reviewer(s)

  • Pr Johannes HÄBERLE

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