Defective peroxisome biogenesis with a neuromuscular disorder resembling Werdnig-Hoffman disease

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Characterization of the defect in a patient presenting a peripheral neuropathy with atypical features of distal motor involvement mimicking Werdnig-Hoffmann disease.


Clinical signs included generalized hypotonia and floppiness, absence of stretch reflexes, muscle wasting, lack of head control and lingual fasciculations associated with unaffected facial muscles, and normal intellectual development.


Normal muscle histology ruled out Werdnig-Hoffmann disease. Elevated plasma concentrations of very long-chain fatty acids and bile acid intermediates combined with normal plasmalogen levels in erythrocytes suggested defective peroxisomal β-oxidation directly demonstrated by deficient pristanic acid and partially deficient C26:0 was present oxidation in cultured fibroblasts. Severely impaired pipecolic acid oxidation in liver and phytanic acid oxidation in fibroblasts was present. On light and electron microscopy of the liver tissue, rare peroxisomal membrane ghosts and trilamellar inclusions but absence of peroxisomes was noted. Immunoblot analysis revealed absence of peroxisomal β-oxidation enzymes in liver tissue but normal results in fibroblasts. Remarkably, expression of the peroxisomal defect in fibroblasts was indicated by the finding of mainly cytoplasmatic catalase, as in liver. Preliminary studies excluded classification of this patient within the large PEX1 complementation group.


The results suggest a novel peroxisome biogenesis disorder involving peroxisomal β-oxidation as well as phytanic and pipecolic acid oxidation rather than an isolated defect of peroxisomal β-oxidation. The association of a clinical picture mimicking Werdnig-Hoffmann disease with a novel peroxisomal disorder raises the question of whether investigation for peroxisomal function should be considered in every patient with an enigmatic spinal muscular atrophy-like syndrome.

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