Zellweger spectrum disorders (ZSD) are diagnosed by biochemical assay in blood, urine and cultured fibroblasts and PEX gene mutation identification. In most cases studies in fibroblasts corroborate results obtained in body fluids. In 1996 Clayton and colleagues described a 10-year old girl with evidence of a peroxisome disorder, based on elevated bile acid metabolites and phytanate. At the time it was not possible to distinguish whether she had a ZSD or a single peroxisomal protein defect. Studies in our laboratory showed that she also had elevated plasma pipecolate, supporting the former diagnosis. Despite the abnormal metabolites detected in blood (phytanate, bile acid intermediates and pipecolate), analysis of multiple peroxisomal pathways in fibroblasts yielded normal results. In addition, she had a milder clinical phenotype than usually associated with ZSD. Since complementation analysis to determine the gene defect was not possible, we screened this patient following the PEX Gene Screen algorithm (PGS). The PGS provides a template for sequencing PEX gene exons independent of complementation analysis. Two mutations in PEX10 were identified, a frameshift mutation inherited from her father and a de novo missense mutation in a conserved functional domain on the other allele. This case highlights that molecular analysis may be essential to the diagnosis of patients at the milder end of the ZSD spectrum. Furthermore, it supports the concept that some tissues are less affected by certain PEX gene defects than brain and liver.
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