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1.  Refsum's disease: characterization of the enzyme defect in cell culture 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  1969;48(6):1017-1032.
Refsum's disease (heredopathia atactica polyneuritiformis, HAP) is an inherited neurological disorder associated with storage of the branched-chain fatty acid, phytanic acid (3,7,11,15-tetramethylhexadecanoic acid). Cultured fibroblasts derived from skin biopsies of HAP patients did not contain elevated levels of phytanate, yet showed rates of phytanate-C-14C oxidation less than 3% of those seen in cells from control subjects. Cells of control subjects converted phytanate to α-hydroxyphytanate, to pristanate (the [n-1] homologue of phytanate) and to 4,8,12-trimethyltridecanoate, compounds previously identified as intermediates on the major pathway for phytanate metabolism in animals, providing the first direct evidence that this same oxidative pathway is operative in human cells. None of these breakdown products could be found after incubation of phytanate with HAP cells. Labeled α-hydroxyphytanate and labeled pristanate were oxidized at normal rates by HAP cells. Oxidation of the latter proceeded at normal rates both when added to the medium at very low tracer levels and at levels 100 times greater. Phytanate was incorporated into and released from lipid esters at normal rates by HAP cells. Elevated levels of free phytanate in the medium were no more toxic to HAP cells than to control cells over the 48- to 72-hr exposures involved in these studies, as evidenced by morphologic criteria and by ability to oxidize labeled palmitate. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the cells from HAP patients are deficient in a single enzyme involved in the α-hydroxylation of phytanate, while the enzymes involved in later steps are present at normal or near-normal levels.
PMCID: PMC322316  PMID: 4181593
2.  Patterns of Refsum's disease. Phytanic acid oxidase deficiency. 
Archives of Disease in Childhood  1984;59(3):222-229.
Four children each exhibiting a profound deficiency of phytanic acid oxidase activity in cultured skin fibroblasts but with very different phenotypes, are described. A consistently raised plasma phytanic acid value, generally considered to be pathognomonic for Refsum's disease (phytanic acid oxidase deficiency), was observed in three of these children but not in the fourth, who also showed no evidence of accumulation of phytanic acid in liver or fat biopsies. Our data suggest that the clinical diagnosis of Refsum's disease in children is more difficult because the full spectrum of clinical features usually observed in adults with the disorder is not always present. Moreover, a failure to detect a raised plasma phytanic acid value may not necessarily indicate normal fibroblast phytanic acid oxidase activity.
PMCID: PMC1628542  PMID: 6201142
3.  Refsum's Disease—Use of the Intestinal Lipase Inhibitor, Orlistat, as a Novel Therapeutic Approach to a Complex Disorder 
Journal of Obesity  2010;2011:482021.
Refsum's Disease is an inherited metabolic disorder in which a metabolite of branched chain fatty acids accumulates due to lack of appropriate oxidative enzymes. Patients have elevated plasma phytanic acid levels and high concentrations of phytanic acid in a variety of tissues leading to progressive tissue damage. Besides retinal degeneration or retinal dystrophy associated with adult onset retinitis pigmentosa, additional symptoms include chronic polyneuropathy, cerebellar ataxia, sensorineural hearing loss, anosmia, ichthyosis, as well as skeletal, cardiac, hepatic, and renal abnormalities. Current management includes avoidance of dietary sources of branched chain fatty acids and regular plasmapheresis to prevent accumulation of these compounds to ameliorate progressive neurological deficits. Two brothers with Refsum's disease who experienced progressive symptoms despite optimal diet and plasmapheresis were commenced on a novel therapy. We report the effect of the intestinal lipase inhibitor, Orlistat, which led to significant reduction (P-value <0.001 on 2-sample unpaired t-test) of mean preplasmapheresis phytanic acid levels with retardation of the progression of most of their dermatological and neurological symptoms.
PMCID: PMC2943115  PMID: 20871815
4.  Localization of the oxidative defect in phytanic acid degradation in patients with refsum's disease 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  1969;48(6):1033-1040.
The rate of oxidation of phytanic acid-U-14C to 14CO2 in three patients with Refsum's disease was less than 5% of that found in normal volunteers. In contrast, the rate of oxidation of α-hydroxyphytanic acid-U-14C and of pristanic acid-U-14C to 14CO2, studied in two patients, while somewhat less than that in normal controls, was not grossly impaired. These studies support the conclusion that the defect in phytanic acid oxidation in Refsum's disease is located in the first step of phytanic acid degradation, that is, in the alpha oxidation step leading to formation of α-hydroxyphytanic acid.
The initial rate of disappearance of plasma free fatty acid radioactivity after intravenous injection of phytanic acid-U-14C (t½ = 5.9 min) was slower than that seen with pristanic acid-U-14C (t½ = 2.7 min) or palmitic acid-1-14C (t½ = 2.5 min). There were no differences between patients and normal controls in these initial rates of free fatty acid disappearance for any of the three substrates tested.
There was no detectable lipid radioactivity found in the plasma 7 days after the injection of palmitic acid-1-14C or pristanic acid-U-14C in either patients or controls. After injection of phytanic acid-U-14C, however, the two patients showed only a very slow decline in plasma lipid radioactivity (estimated t½ = 35 days), in contrast to the normals who had no detectable radioactivity after 2 days. Incorporation of radioactivity from phytanic acid-U-14C into the major lipid ester classes of plasma was studied in one of the patients; triglycerides accounted for by far the largest fraction of the total present between 1 and 4 hr.
PMCID: PMC322317  PMID: 4181594
5.  Studies on the Metabolic Error in Refsum's Disease* 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  1967;46(3):313-322.
Studies utilizing mevalonic acid-2-14C and D2O as precursors failed to provide evidence for an appreciable rate of endogenous biosynthesis of phytanic acid in a patient with Refsum's disease.
Orally administered tracer doses of phytol-U-14C were well absorbed both by seven normal control subjects (61 to 94%) and by two patients with Refsum's disease (74 and 80%).
The fraction of the absorbed dose converted to 14CO2 in 12 hours was 3.5 and 5.8% in Refsum's disease patients and averaged 20.9% in seven control subjects.
Labeled phytanic acid was demonstrated in the plasma of both control subjects and patients given phytol-U-14C, establishing phytol in the diet as a potential precursor of phytanic acid. This labeled phytanic acid had disappeared almost completely from the plasma of the seven control subjects by 24 to 48 hours, whereas it persisted at high concentrations in the plasma of the two patients for many days.
We conclude that the phytanic acid accumulating in Refsum's disease is primarily of exogenous origin and that patients with Refsum's disease have a relative block in the degradation of phytanic acid and possibly other similar branched-chain compounds. This may relate to a deficiency in mechanisms for release of phytanic acid from stored ester forms or, more probably, to reactions essential to oxidative degradation of the carbon skeleton.
PMCID: PMC297052  PMID: 4164676
6.  Plasma exchange in the treatment of Refsum's disease (heredopathia atactica polyneuritiformis). 
Five cases of heredopathia atactica polyneuritiformis (HAP--Refsum's disease) were treated by serial plasma exchanges. In all patients a reduction in calorie intake and body weight had been associated with a rise in plasma phytanic acid, followed by an exacerbation of the ataxia and neuropathy. Lowering the plasma phytanic acid by plasma exchange produced a rapid clinical improvement. The main indication for plasma exchange in HAP is a severe or rapidly worsening clinical condition. A lesser indication is failure of dietary management to reduce a high plasma phytanic acid level.
PMCID: PMC1014432  PMID: 1716665
7.  Refsum's syndrome: report of three cases 
The case-reports of three cases of Refsum's syndrome are presented, and the underlying metabolic abnormality discussed. The effect of treatment with a low-phytanic acid diet in one case is described.
PMCID: PMC493598  PMID: 5531900
8.  Smell testing: an additional tool for identification of adult Refsum's disease 
Objective: To investigate the prevalence and degree of olfactory dysfunction in patients with ARD.
Method: The olfactory function of 16 patients with ARD was assessed using the quantitative University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT).
Results: All patients had complete anosmia or grossly impaired smell function with a mean UPSIT score of 14.7 (SD 4.7) (normal>34) despite having been treated with an appropriate diet for a median of 15 years (range 1–25).
Conclusions: Identification of ARD patients can be facilitated by using the UPSIT in combination with the presence of retinitis pigmentosa, even if they have no neurological or bony features. Phytanic acid screening should be performed in any patient manifesting these two signs.
PMCID: PMC1739246  PMID: 15314127
9.  Clinicopathological study of Refsum's disease with particular reference to fatal complications. 
The clinical and pathological findings in two brothers with biochemically diagnosed Refsum's disease are given. The pathology, in general, was that already described in this condition. An unusual complication in one case was the development of renal failure. Death was caused in the other by heart failure.
PMCID: PMC493025  PMID: 77310
10.  Identification of differences in human and great ape phytanic acid metabolism that could influence gene expression profiles and physiological functions 
BMC Physiology  2010;10:19.
It has been proposed that anatomical differences in human and great ape guts arose in response to species-specific diets and energy demands. To investigate functional genomic consequences of these differences, we compared their physiological levels of phytanic acid, a branched chain fatty acid that can be derived from the microbial degradation of chlorophyll in ruminant guts. Humans who accumulate large stores of phytanic acid commonly develop cerebellar ataxia, peripheral polyneuropathy, and retinitis pigmentosa in addition to other medical conditions. Furthermore, phytanic acid is an activator of the PPAR-alpha transcription factor that influences the expression of genes relevant to lipid metabolism.
Despite their trace dietary phytanic acid intake, all great ape species had elevated red blood cell (RBC) phytanic acid levels relative to humans on diverse diets. Unlike humans, chimpanzees showed sexual dimorphism in RBC phytanic acid levels, which were higher in males relative to females. Cultured skin fibroblasts from all species had a robust capacity to degrade phytanic acid. We provide indirect evidence that great apes, in contrast to humans, derive significant amounts of phytanic acid from the hindgut fermentation of plant materials. This would represent a novel reduction of metabolic activity in humans relative to the great apes.
We identified differences in the physiological levels of phytanic acid in humans and great apes and propose this is causally related to their gut anatomies and microbiomes. Phytanic acid levels could contribute to cross-species and sex-specific differences in human and great ape transcriptomes, especially those related to lipid metabolism. Based on the medical conditions caused by phytanic acid accumulation, we suggest that differences in phytanic acid metabolism could influence the functions of human and great ape nervous, cardiovascular, and skeletal systems.
PMCID: PMC2964658  PMID: 20932325
11.  Ataxia and other data reviewed in Charcot-Marie-Tooth and Refsum's disease. 
The author reports his experience on Refsum's disease and that gained after personally examining in detail 64 patients with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease over the past ten years. The "cerebellar" inco-ordination in Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (with or without distal wasting) and in Refsum's disease is analysed. Some variations in the motor and sensory neuropathy of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and Refsum's disease are discussed. The adequacy of motor conduction velocity in genetically distinguishing types of the above mentioned familial peripheral neuropathies is reviewed. Data on the neuropathy assessed by modern techniques of three original patients of Roussy and Levy (1926) are given. The possibility of extensor plantar responses in patients with Charcot-Marie-Tooth and Refsum's disease without structural lesion of the pyramidal tract is pointed out. The existence of the association between Friedreich's ataxia and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is criticised. It is emphasised that spinocerebellar degeneration (other than Friedreich's ataxia) presenting with distal limb weakness and wasting and sensory impairment may mimic Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
PMCID: PMC491688  PMID: 6186770
12.  Midlife diagnosis of Refsum Disease in siblings with Retinitis Pigmentosa – the footprint is the clue: a case report 
Refsum disease is a potentially lethal and disabling condition associated with retinitis pigmentosa in which early treatment can prevent some of the systemic manifestations.
Case presentation
We present the cases of two brothers with a diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa from childhood in whom Refsum disease was subsequently diagnosed midlife, after routine enquiry into hand and feet abnormalities. Subsequent treatment through dietary modification stabilised visual impairment and has prevented development of neurological complications to date.
It is therefore important to consider the diagnosis of Refsum disease in any patient with autosomal recessive or simplex retinitis pigmentosa, and to enquire about the presence of "unusual" feet or hands in such patients.
PMCID: PMC2275283  PMID: 18336720
13.  Horner's syndrome: an electron microscopic study of a human iris. 
Electron microscopy was performed on the irides of a man with a history of a long standing Horner's syndrome which resulted in iris heterochromia. Comparison of his normal brown iris with the depigmented blue iris showed depletion of anterior border cells and absence of sympathetic nerve fibres. Stromal melanocyte numbers were also diminished but melanosome numbers within the residual cells were not significantly different. Postnatal maintenance of stromal and anterior border zone pigmentation, derived from the neural crest, would appear to be dependent on an intact sympathetic nerve supply in contrast to the iris pigment epithelium which remains normally unaffected in Horner's syndrome.
PMCID: PMC504397  PMID: 1486079
14.  Phytol metabolites are circulating dietary factors that activate the nuclear receptor RXR. 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  1996;7(8):1153-1166.
RXR is a nuclear receptor that plays a central role in cell signaling by pairing with a host of other receptors. Previously, 9-cis-retinoic acid (9cRA) was defined as a potent RXR activator. Here we describe a unique RXR effector identified from organic extracts of bovine serum by following RXR-dependent transcriptional activity. Structural analyses of material in active fractions pointed to the saturated diterpenoid phytanic acid, which induced RXR-dependent transcription at concentrations between 4 and 64 microM. Although 200 times more potent than phytanic acid, 9cRA was undetectable in equivalent amounts of extract and cannot be present at a concentration that could account for the activity. Phytanic acid, another phytol metabolite, was synthesized and stimulated RXR with a potency and efficacy similar to phytanic acid. These metabolites specifically displaced [3H]-9cRA from RXR with Ki values of 4 microM, indicating that their transcriptional effects are mediated by direct receptor interactions. Phytol metabolites are compelling candidates for physiological effectors, because their RXR binding affinities and activation potencies match their micromolar circulating concentrations. Given their exclusive dietary origin, these chlorophyll metabolites may represent essential nutrients that coordinate cellular metabolism through RXR-dependent signaling pathways.
PMCID: PMC275969  PMID: 8856661
15.  Moxifloxacin and bilateral acute iris transillumination 
Recent publications have alerted clinicians to a syndrome of uveitic transilluminating iris depigmentation associated with systemic fluoroquinolones and other antibiotics. Bilateral acute iris transillumination, which is associated with loss of the iris pigment epithelium and results in iris transillumination, differs from the previously described bilateral acute depigmentation of the iris, which is associated with atrophy of the iris stroma without transillumination. We present a case of fluoroquinolone-associated uveitis with anterior segment optical coherence tomography imaging to highlight some observations about this syndrome. We interpret pharmacokinetic data to help explain why oral, but not topical, moxifloxacin may cause fluoroquinolone-associated uveitis.
PMCID: PMC3605082  PMID: 23514193
Moxifloxacin; Fluoroquinolone; Uveitis; Iris transillumination; Pigment dispersion
16.  The significance of plasma phytanic acid levels in adults. 
The presence of phytanic acid in tissues and plasma has been considered diagnostic of heredopathia atactica polyneuritiformis (Refsum's disease), but recently slightly raised plasma phytanic acid levels have been reported in other conditions. Forty two normal people were found to have a phytanic acid level of 0-33 mumol/l. Fourteen patients with heredopathia atactica polyneuritiformis had a plasma phytanic acid level before treatment of 992-6400 mumol/l. Five patients with retinitis pigmentosa but not heredopathia atactica polyneuritiformis had plasma levels of 38-192 mumol/l. It was concluded that some patients with retinitis pigmentosa without heredopathia atactica polyneuritiformis but a raised plasma phytanic acid may represent a group of patients with a disease or diseases as yet uncharacterised apart from the retinal condition.
PMCID: PMC1031939  PMID: 2475586
17.  External ocular pigmentation secondary to perforating eye injury. 
The dispersal of pigment centrifugally through the conjunctiva from the site of a repaired traumatic perforation was observed. Iris tissue had been incarcerated in the wound for three days prior to surgical repair. Conjunctival biopsies were examined by light and electron microscopy. Light microscopy revealed a normal, non-pigmented conjunctival epithelium and numerous pigment-laden cells in the substantia propria. Electron microscopy showed these cells to contain melanosomes closely resembling those found in normal iris posterior pigment epithelium. The causes of abnormal external ocular pigmentation are discussed.
PMCID: PMC1042077  PMID: 2337556
18.  Peripheral neuropathy associated with erythrophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. 
A 12 year old patient who developed clinical, biochemical and histological features of erythrophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis is described. In contrast to previously reported cases, the prominent neurological feature was a subacute sensorimotor polyneuropathy. Sural nerve biopsy showed a marked reduction of myelinated fibres and severe axonal lesions, absence of histiocyte infiltration and deposits of IgM along the epineurium. In addition to the hypertriglyceridaemia previously described in this condition, an elevation of plasma very long-chain fatty acids and phytanic acid was found which suggests a transient impairment of peroxisomal functions.
PMCID: PMC1031548  PMID: 3346698
19.  Congenital adenoma of the iris and ciliary body: light and electron microscopic observations. 
A 23-year-old man had a lesion in the right inferior iris which appeared to have enlarged since it was first seen when the patient was aged 5 years. The lesion was excised by a partial iridocyclectomy. Histopathologically the neoplasm was composed of both pigmented and non-pigmented cells. Pseudoacini, containing acid mucopolysaccharides, were present throughout the tumour matrix. Electron microscopically the non-pigmented cells were found to possess a convoluted plasmalemma, abundant rough endoplasmic reticulum, and numerous desmosomes and gap junctions. The pigmented cells contained large, round, mature melanosomes, occasional premelanosomes, and desmosomes, which resembled the posterior pigment epithelium of the iris. The intercellular matrix contained fine collagen fibrils resembling vitreous. We believe that this neoplasm represents a congenital adenoma of the ciliary body and iris.
PMCID: PMC504350  PMID: 1420064
20.  Ocular Correlates of Inborn Metabolic Defects 
Canadian Medical Association Journal  1966;95(21):1055-1065.
The eye provides unique opportunities for the detection, during life, of deposits of storage substances and other characteristic changes resulting from inborn metabolic defects. The cornea shows the macromolecular polysaccharides of Hurler's disease, the cystine crystals in cystinosis, and the copper deposits of Wilson's disease. The sclera shows characteristic pigmentation in alcaptonuria. The iris shows the lack of pigmentation in various types of albinism. The lens is cataractous in galactosemia and dislocated in homocystinuria. The vitreous is opacified in familial amyloidosis. The retina shows different and characteristic deposits with the diseases of Tay-Sachs, Niemann-Pick, metachromatic leukodystrophy, and Farber's lipogranulomatosis. The retinal veins show pronounced tortuosity with Fabry's disease. There is some evidence that optic neuropathy occurs in glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency. Curiously, few abnormalities in the eye have been described in subjects with the glycogen storage diseases.
PMCID: PMC1936847  PMID: 5332750
21.  Microcysts of the human iris pigment epithelium. 
Microcysts of the iris pigment epithelium have been described in association with diabetes mellitus, systemic mucopolysaccharidoses. Menkes's syndrome, and in neonates. Our study covers 68 cases obtained at necropsy. We specifically examined the iris pigment epithelium for vacuolation. We found that microcysts are more widespread than previously thought. In our series 57.3% of the cases reviewed by the light microscope showed microcysts. Of interest was the relationship of malignant neoplasm to iris pigment epithelium microcyst: 69.4% of cases with malignancy showed microcyst, whereas only 30% of the cases without neoplasms showed microcysts. Patients treated with exogenous steroid also had a raised incidence of microcysts.
PMCID: PMC1043611  PMID: 508690
22.  Effect of dairy fat on plasma phytanic acid in healthy volunteers - a randomized controlled study 
Phytanic acid produced in ruminants from chlorophyll may have preventive effects on the metabolic syndrome, partly due to its reported RXR and PPAR- α agonist activity. Milk from cows fed increased levels of green plant material, contains increased phytanic acid concentrations, but it is unknown to what extent minor increases in phytanic acid content in dairy fat leads to higher circulating levels of phytanic acid in plasma of the consumers.
To investigate if cow feeding regimes affects concentration of plasma phytanic acid and risk markers of the metabolic syndrome in human.
In a double-blind, randomized, 4 wk, parallel intervention study 14 healthy young subjects were given 45 g milk fat/d from test butter and cheese with 0.24 wt% phytanic acid or a control diet with 0.13 wt% phytanic acid. Difference in phytanic acid was obtained by feeding roughage with low or high content of chlorophyll.
There tended to be a difference in plasma phytanic acid (P = 0.0730) concentration after the dietary intervention. Plasma phytanic acid increased significantly within both groups with the highest increase in control group (24%) compared to phytanic acid group (15%). There were no significant effects of phytanic acid on risk markers for the metabolic syndrome.
The results indicate that increased intake of dairy fat modify the plasma phytanic acid concentration, regardless of cows feeding regime and the minor difference in dietary phytanic acid. Whether the phytanic acid has potential to affects the risk markers of the metabolic syndrome in human still remain to be elucidated.
Trial Registration NCT01343576
PMCID: PMC3127790  PMID: 21663648
Phytanic acid; cow-feeding regime; absorption; fatty acid; total cholesterol; LDL cholesterol; HDL cholesterol; C-reactive protein; insulin; glucose
23.  A Study of the Vascular Network of the Iris Using Flat Preparation 
This study was performed to examine the vascular network of the human iris using flat preparation.
The ciliary body-iris structures were separated from human eyeballs, and a portion of the irises were treated with trypsin to remove the pigment granules. These iris tissues were unfolded and placed onto glass slides using flat preparation, and the vascular network of each iris was examined by fluorescein microscopy. The ciliary body-iris structures separated from the remaining eyes were stained with hematoxylin-eosin without trypsin treatment and were examined by light microscopy.
The long posterior ciliary artery formed several branches before entering the iris root, and such branches formed the major arterial circle of the iris with diverse diameters in the vicinity of the iris root and the ciliary process. In the pupillary margin, the iris vasculature network formed a cone shape and then formed an arcade by connecting to adjacent vasculatures. In the vicinity of the collarette, the iris vasculature network formed the minor arterial circle of the iris with diverse diameters perpendicular to the arcade of the iris network located in the pupillary margin. In the pupillary margin, the capillaries were somewhat thick and connected to the irregular traveling iris vein.
The above findings explain the human iris vascular network and provide a theoretical basis for the sectoral filling of the iris vasculature seen in fluorescein iris angiography.
PMCID: PMC2789956  PMID: 20046692
Flat preparation; Fluorescein microscopy; Human iris; Vascular network
24.  Carnitine deficiency: clinical, morphological, and biochemical observations in a fatal case. 
A fatal case of carnitine deficiency is described. The patient had intermittent metabolic acidosis, fluctuating hepatomegaly, and progressive muscle weakness since 22 months of age. One of two liver biopsies revealed lipid accumulation in the hepatocytes, and a muscle biopsy at age 5 years showed a lipid storage myopathy. Type 1 fibres were the most severely affected. Satellite and vascular endothelial cells also contained abnormal lipid deposits. Quantitative electron microscopy demonstrated an approximately 50-fold increase in lipid material, and a twofold increase in mitochondria in myofibres. The muscle carnitine level was less than one-seventh of the lowest value encountered in 74 biopsies from non-weak or neuromuscular disease controls. The basic abnormality in this patient is assumed to be a defect in carnitine biosynthesis.
PMCID: PMC492697  PMID: 874508
25.  Scanning electron microscopic study of Dacron degradation by ocular tissue extracts. 
A scanning electron microscopic study showed that the surface of Dacron thread became significantly roughened after treatment with bovine iris-ciliary body extracts. The Dacron-degrading factor in the extract was nondialysable, heat-labile, and active at an acidic pH, suggesting that lysosomal enzymes may be a factor in this phenomenon. Bovine extracts from the iris, ciliary body, and sensory retina degraded the surface of Dacron most substantially, while the Dacron surface was moderately digested by extracts from the cornea and retinal pigment epithelium. Lenticular and choroidal extracts did not affect the Dacron surface. Possibly the factor that degrades Dacron may be different from that which affects nylon, and the Dacron suture may not be preferable for corneal surgery.
PMCID: PMC1040116  PMID: 6223657

Results 1-25 (1125949)