There have been anecdotes of unexplained coma and death in patients after otherwise successful orthotopic lung transplantation. A patient with primary pulmonary hypertension who underwent a technically uncomplicated single orthotopic lung transplantation is described. The patient developed intractable status epilepticus 4 days after surgery in association with the presence of a markedly elevated plasma ammonium level. Despite multiple therapeutic interventions, the hyperammonemia ultimately resulted in the patient's death. Both metabolic and enzymatic studies showed that the unique physiological disturbance in this disorder results at least in part from defective in vivo conversion of waste nitrogen to urea and increased production of waste nitrogen. Although the rate of hepatic ureagenesis was therefore insufficient to prevent accumulation of ammonium, the cause was not severe liver disease. Liver histology showed widespread, microvesicular steatosis on light-microscopic examination, but only electron-microscopic examination showed severe microvesicular steatosis with severe mitochondrial injury. As in Reye's syndrome, it was unclear whether the hepatic mitochondrial injury played a role in development or if it was the result of hyperammonemia. We recommend that any patient with an unexplained alteration of mental status after solid organ transplantation be evaluated for hyperammonemia.
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