A correlative study of the adrenal cortex in adreno-leukodystrophy: Evidence for a fatal intoxication with very long chain saturated fatty acids

J. M. Powers, H. H. Schaumburg, A. B. Johnson, C. S. Raine

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Thirty adrenal glands from patients with adreno-leukodystrophy (ALD) have been studied by light microscopy, three by enzyme histochemistry, three by electron microscopy and two by tissue culture. Cytoplasmic ballooning and striations result from proliferation of smooth endoplasmic reticulum and accumulations of lamellar-lipid profiles and clear clefts (crystalloids). Striated adrenocortical cells, the only pathognomonic adrenal lesion in ALD, display cytoplasmic lamellae, decreased amounts of rough endoplasmic reticulum and depression of several enzymes (alpha-glycerophosphate dehydrogenase, 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase and TPNH diaphorase). The striated cells also demonstrate decreased ability to adapt to changes in microenvironment, both in vivo and in vitro. A blunted response by striated cells to focal peripheral cytolysis leads to cytoplasmic erosion, atrophy and macrovacuoles. ACTH has a pivotal role in the evolution of these lesions. The authors propose that the pathognomonic lamellae of ALD basically represent bilayers or bimolecular leaflets of very long chain saturated fatty acids, while lamellar-lipid profiles and clefts contain cholesterol esterified to these abnormal fatty acids. The similarity of lamellar-lipid profiles of ALD to cytoplasmic lesions induced by long chain saturated fatty acids suggests that the very long chain saturated fatty acids isolated in ALD are cytotoxic and are responsible for adrenocortical cell dysfunction in this disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)353-376
Number of pages24
JournalInvestigative and Cell Pathology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 1980


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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