Autopsy findings in two siblings with infantile Refsum disease

Acta Neuropathol. 1992;83(2):190-5. doi: 10.1007/BF00308478.


Recognition of adrenal atrophy during a review of autopsy findings in two sisters who died at 8 months and 3 1/2 years prompted estimation of very long chain fatty acids, phytanic acid and pristanic acid on wet liver fixed in formalin for 12 years. These were shown to be markedly increased and defects in multiple peroxisomal functions and decrease in particulate catalase were shown in cultured fibroblasts, confirming an abnormality of peroxisomal biogenesis. The patients had presented with failure to thrive, recurrent diarrhoea and vomiting, poor mental development, retinal pigmentation, blindness and in the older patient deafness, with only mild dysmorphic features. Autopsy in the older patient showed adrenal atrophy, cirrhosis, and foamy histiocytes in multiple organs. The brain showed no demyelination, little cytoarchitectural abnormality, occasional perivascular histiocytes in the grey matter and meninges and prominent Purkinje cells in the molecular layer of the cerebellum. In the younger patient the changes were very subtle in spite of the marked clinical similarity. Despite the young age at death the clinicopathological features are most suggestive of infantile Refsum disease. In many situations anatomical pathology can be very useful in the recognition and study of peroxisomal disorders.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Glands / pathology
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / pathology
  • Microbodies / ultrastructure
  • Phytanic Acid / metabolism
  • Refsum Disease / enzymology
  • Refsum Disease / metabolism
  • Refsum Disease / pathology*


  • Fatty Acids
  • Phytanic Acid
  • pristanic acid