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J Inherit Metab Dis. 2001;24 Suppl 2:106-21; discussion 87-8.

Gaucher disease: understanding the molecular pathogenesis of sphingolipidoses.

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Department of Medicine, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital, UK.


Gaucher disease is a typical lysosomal storage disease, resulting from an inborn deficiency of glucocerebrosidase. This leads to the accumulation of glycolipids in macrophages, particularly those in the liver, bone marrow, spleen and lung. In addition, disease of the nervous system can arise as a result of the accumulation of endogenous glycosphingolipid metabolites in brain tissue. About 150 mutations of the glucocerebrosidase gene have been identified in patients with Gaucher disease, some of which are predictive of phenotype. However, even patients and siblings with the same mutation, including monozygotic twins, may exhibit marked variability in disease expression and severity, illustrating our lack of understanding of the phenotype-genotype relationship in the sphingolipidoses. Massive organomegaly, particularly of the spleen, is a frequent feature of the disease. Although the liver and spleen may increase greatly in size, the amount of pathological lipid stored in the affected macrophages (Gaucher cells) accounts for less than 2% of the additional tissue mass. It is therefore clear that an inflammatory response occurs in affected individuals and that the clinical phenotype is due to an effect of macrophage storage beyond the physical presence of the Gaucher cells. Factors released by Gaucher cells, including pro-inflammatory cytokines and perhaps cathepsins, provide a mechanistic link between lysosomal storage and the diverse clinical manifestations of Gaucher disease. Emerging proteomic technology and gene expression profiling should not only improve our understanding of pathogenesis but also offer the prospect of identifying novel biomarkers that can be used as surrogate measures of disease activity and responses to treatment.

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