Adrenoleukodystrophy: Phenotypic variability and implications for therapy
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X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) is a relatively common disorder that shows a great deal of phenotypic variability. Approximately half of the patients have the rapidly progressive childhood cerebral form that is associated with an inflammatory response in brain and leads to total disability or death during the first decade. Twenty five per cent or more of the patients have adrenomyeloneuropathy (AMN), a form that progresses slowly, involves the spinal cord mainly, shows little or no inflammatory response, manifests in adulthood, and is compatible with a near-normal life span. The two forms of the disease occur frequently within the same kindreds and nuclear families. Segregation analysis based on 3862 individuals in 89 kindreds points to the existence of an autosomal modifier locus with a likelihood ratio of 20:1. In addition, we present preliminary results of three types of therapy. Two hundred and four patients have received a dietary regimen that combines the administration of oils containing mono-unsaturated fatty acids (oleic and erucic) with the restricted intake of very long-chain fatty acids. This regimen normalizes the levels of satured very long-chain fatty acids in plasma within 4 weeks. It appears to improve peripheral nerve function in patients with AMN, and a large-scale trial is in progress to determine whether it can prevent the onset of neurological involvement in patients who have the biochemical abnormality of ALD but are neurologically intact. We report early results of bone marrow transplantation in 14 patients. There is encouraging but still preliminary evidence that transplantation can arrest the progression of the disease in patients with mild neurological involvement. There is urgent need to develop methods to combat the rapid progression of the cerebral forms of the disease, which so far has resisted therapeutic intervention, including immunosuppression or the administration of immunoglobulin.
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