To determine if there is abnormal phenylalanine and biopterin metabolism in patients with dopa-responsive dystonia (DRD), we measured plasma levels of phenylalanine, tyrosine, biopterin, and neopterin at baseline, and 1, 2, 4, and 6 hours after an oral phenylalanine load (100 mg/kg). Seven adults with DRD, two severely affected children with DRD, and nine adult controls were studied. All patients had phenylalanine and tyrosine concentrations within the normal range at baseline. In the adult patients, phenylalanine levels were higher than in controls at 2, 4, and 6 hours post-load (p < 0.0005); tyrosine concentrations were lower than control levels at 1, 2, and 4 hours post-load (p < 0.05). Phenylalanine to tyrosine ratios were elevated in patients at all times post-load (p < 0.0005). Biopterin levels in the patients were decreased at baseline and 1, 2, and 4 hours post-load (p < 0.005). Pretreatment with tetrahydrobiopterin (7.5 mg/kg) normalized phenylalanine and tyrosine profiles in two adult patients. In the children with DRD, phenylalanine to tyrosine ratios were slightly elevated at baseline. Following phenylalanine loading, the phenylalanine profiles were similar to those seen in the adult patients but there was no elevation in plasma tyrosine. Baseline biopterin levels were lower in the children with DRD than in the adult patients or the controls and there was no increase in biopterin post-load. In both the children and adults with DRD, neopterin concentrations did not differ from control values at baseline or after phenylalanine load. The results are consistent with decreased liver phenylalanine hydroxylase activity due to defective synthesis of tetrahydrobiopterin in patients with DRD. The findings show that a phenylalanine load may be useful in the diagnosis of this disorder.