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J Lipid Res. 2003 Aug;44(8):1481-8. Epub 2003 Apr 16.

Metabolism of phytanic acid and 3-methyl-adipic acid excretion in patients with adult Refsum disease.

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  • 1Department of Chemical Pathology, Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, 369 Fulham Road, London, United Kingdom.


Adult Refsum disease (ARD) is associated with defective alpha-oxidation of phytanic acid (PA). omega-Oxidation of PA to 3-methyl-adipic acid (3-MAA) occurs although its clinical significance is unclear. In a 40 day study of a new ARD patient, where the plasma half-life of PA was 22.4 days, omega-oxidation accounted for 30% initially and later all PA excretion. Plasma and adipose tissue PA and 3-MAA excretion were measured in a cross-sectional study of 11 patients. The capacity of the omega-oxidation pathway was 6.9 (2.8-19.4) mg [20.4 (8.3-57.4) micromol] PA/day. 3-MAA excretion correlated with plasma PA levels (r = 0.61; P = 0.03) but not adipose tissue PA content. omega-Oxidation during a 56 h fast was studied in five patients. 3-MAA excretion increased by 208 +/- 58% in parallel with the 158 (125-603)% rise in plasma PA. Plasma PA doubled every 29 h, while 3-MAA excretion followed second-order kinetics. Acute sequelae of ARD were noted in three patients (60%) after fasting. The omega-oxidation pathway can metabolise PA ingested by patients with ARD, but this activity is dependent on plasma PA concentration. omega-Oxidation forms a functional reserve capacity that enables patients with ARD undergoing acute stress to cope with limited increases in plasma PA levels.

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