Long-chain fatty acids are important sources of respiratory fuel for many tissues and during fasting the rate of hepatic production of ketone bodies is markedly increased. Many extra hepatic tissues utilize ketone bodies in the fasted state with the advantage that glucose is "spared" for more vital tissues like the brain. This glucose sparing effect of ketones is especially important in infants where there is a high proportional glucose utilization in cerebral tissue. The first reported inherited defect affecting fatty acid oxidation was described in 1973 and to date about 15 separate disorders have been described. Although individually rare, cumulatively fatty acid oxidation defects are relatively common, have major consequences for affected individuals and their families, and carry significant health care implications. The major biochemical consequence of fatty acid oxidation defects is an inability of extra hepatic tissues to utilize fatty acids as an energy source with absent or limited hepatic capacity to generate ketones. Clinically patients usually present in infancy with acute life-threatening hypoketotic hypoglycaemia, liver disease, hyperammonaemia and cerebral oedema, with or without cardiac involvement, usually following a period of catabolic stress. Chronically there may be muscle involvement with hypotonia or exercise intolerance with or without cardiomyopathy. Treatment is generally by the avoidance of fasting, frequent carbohydrate rich feeds and for long-chain defects, the replacement of long-chain dietary fats with medium-chain formulae. Novel approaches to treatment include the use of D,L-3-hydoxybutyrate or heptanoate as an alternative energy source. © 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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