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Cholesteryl Ester Storage Disease and Wolman Disease

(Wolman's Disease)

By Lee M. Sanders, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Stanford University

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Cholesteryl ester storage disease and Wolman disease are sphingolipidoses, an inherited disorder of metabolism, caused by lysosomal acid lipase deficiency resulting in hyperlipidemia and hepatomegaly.

For more information, see Table Sphingolipidosis and also Table Other Lipidoses.

These diseases are rare, autosomal recessive disorders that result in accumulation of cholesteryl esters and triglycerides, mainly in lysosomes of histiocytes, resulting in foam cells in the liver, spleen, lymph nodes, and other tissues. Serum low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is usually elevated.

Wolman disease is the more severe form, manifesting in the first weeks of life with poor feeding, vomiting, and abdominal distention secondary to hepatosplenomegaly; infants usually die within 6 mo.

Cholesteryl ester storage disease is less severe and may not manifest until later in life, even adulthood, at which time hepatomegaly may be detected; premature atherosclerosis, often severe, may develop.

Diagnosis is based on clinical features and detection of acid lipase deficiency in liver biopsy specimens or cultured skin fibroblasts, lymphocytes, or other tissues. Prenatal diagnosis is based on the absence of acid lipase activity in cultured chorionic villi. (Also see testing for suspected inherited disorders of metabolism.)

There is no proven treatment, but statins reduce plasma LDL levels, and cholestyramine combined with a low-cholesterol diet has reportedly alleviated other signs.