We describe the clinicoepidemiologic features, natural history, and therapeutic manipulations in three Greek patients with A-β-lipoproteinemia (two brothers aged 15 and 29 years, respectively, and one sister aged 30 years). Diarrhea started in infancy in the two brothers and from the age of 13 in the sister. During the second decade of life, central nervous system symptoms became prominent, with fatigue and disturbance in gait and balance. Night blindness developed at a later phase of the disease in the brothers, whereas cavus developed in both legs in the sister. Apolipoprotein B was absent in all patients, and each had more than 50% of acanthocytes present on peripheral smear.
The diagnosis of A-β-lipoproteinemia was established on the basis of small bowel histology and serum lipid estimations. Family studies revealed normal lipid profiles in all healthy members. The human leukocyte antigen (HLA) pattern in the two most severely affected patients was identical. The only detectable difference between the severely ill patients and other members of the family, however, was homozygosity for the HLA B18 antigen, whereas the third patient had no alleles for the HLA B18 antigen. Treatment consisted of a low-fat diet and high doses of vitamins A and E. A modified diet substituting medium-chain triglycerides for dietary fat was also given, with significant improvement in the nutritional status of patients but not in symptoms related to advanced disease, such as retinal and cardiac manifestations.
We conclude that the course of the disease in untreated patients is characterized by continuous symptoms. Some of the symptoms, however, especially those related to malabsorption, as well as some anthropometric parameters can be improved by the application of a modified diet including medium-chain triglycerides. We suggest the routine measurement of plasma lipids and apoproteins not only in children with failure to thrive, with unexplained malabsorption, or with neurologic symptoms, but also in adults with chronic diarrhea accompanied by neurologic symptoms or clinical and laboratory signs of malabsorption.