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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Jul;1791(7):659-70. doi: 10.1016/j.bbalip.2009.01.025. Epub 2009 Feb 11.

Mechanisms and consequences of impaired lipid trafficking in Niemann-Pick type C1-deficient mammalian cells.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada.


Niemann-Pick C disease is a fatal progressive neurodegenerative disorder caused in 95% of cases by mutations in the NPC1 gene; the remaining 5% of cases result from mutations in the NPC2 gene. The major biochemical manifestation of NPC1 deficiency is an abnormal sequestration of lipids, including cholesterol and glycosphingolipids, in late endosomes/lysosomes (LE/L) of all cells. In this review, we summarize the current knowledge of the NPC1 protein in mammalian cells with particular focus on how defects in NPC1 alter lipid trafficking and neuronal functions. NPC1 is a protein of LE/L and is predicted to contain thirteen transmembrane domains, five of which constitute a sterol-sensing domain. The precise function of NPC1, and the mechanism by which NPC1 and NPC2 (both cholesterol binding proteins) act together to promote the movement of cholesterol and other lipids out of the LE/L, have not yet been established. Recent evidence suggests that the sequestration of cholesterol in LE/L of cells of the brain (neurons and glial cells) contributes to the widespread death and dysfunction of neurons in the brain. Potential therapies include treatments that promote the removal of cholesterol and glycosphingolipids from LE/L. Currently, the most promising approach for extending life-span and improving the quality of life for NPC patients is a combination of several treatments each of which individually modestly slows disease progression.

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