Pulmonary Involvement in Niemann–Pick Disease: A State-of-the-Art Review


Niemann–Pick disease is a rare autosomal recessive lysosomal storage disease with three subtypes. Types A and B result from a deficiency of acid sphingomyelinase activity, associated with the accumulation of lipid-laden macrophages (so-called Niemann–Pick cells) in various tissues, especially the liver and spleen. Type A is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder of infancy. Type B Niemann–Pick disease is a less severe form with milder neurological involvement, characterized by hepatosplenomegaly, hyperlipidemia, and pulmonary involvement; most patients live into adulthood. Type C Niemann–Pick disease is a complex lipid storage disorder caused by defects in cholesterol trafficking, resulting in a clinical presentation dominated by neurological involvement. Pulmonary involvement occurs in all three types of Niemann–Pick disease, but most frequently in type B. Respiratory manifestations range from a lack of symptoms to respiratory failure. Progression of respiratory disease is slow, but inexorable, due to the accumulation of Niemann–Pick cells in the alveolar septa, bronchial walls, and pleura, potentially leading to a progressively worsening restrictive pattern on pulmonary function testing. Bronchoalveolar lavage has important diagnostic value because it shows the presence of characteristic Niemann–Pick cells. Radiographic findings consist of a reticular or reticulonodular pattern and, eventually, honeycombing, involving mainly the lower lung zones. The most common changes identified by high-resolution computed tomography are ground-glass opacities, mild smooth interlobular septal thickening, and intralobular lines. The aim of this review is to describe the main clinical, imaging, and pathological aspects of Niemann–Pick disease, with a focus on pulmonary involvement.

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Correspondence to Edson Marchiori.

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von Ranke, F.M., Pereira Freitas, H.M., Mançano, A.D. et al. Pulmonary Involvement in Niemann–Pick Disease: A State-of-the-Art Review. Lung 194, 511–518 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00408-016-9893-0

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  • Niemann–Pick disease
  • Computed tomography
  • Pulmonary diseases