Acid Sphingomyelinase Deficiency

In: GeneReviews® [Internet]. Seattle (WA): University of Washington, Seattle; 1993–2020.
[updated ].


Clinical characteristics: Acid sphingomyelinase (ASM) deficiency has been categorized in the past as either neuronopathic (Niemann-Pick disease type A [NPD-A]), with death in early childhood, or non-neuronopathic (Niemann-Pick disease type B [NPD-B]). While forms intermediate to these two extremes occur, all ASM deficiency that is not NPD-A is designated in this review as NPD-B, despite its wide range of manifestations and severity. The first symptom in NPD-A is hepatosplenomegaly, usually noted by age three months; over time the liver and spleen become massive. Psychomotor development progresses no further than the 12-month level, after which neurologic deterioration is relentless. A classic cherry-red spot of the macula of the retina, which may not be present in the first few months, is eventually present in all affected children. Interstitial lung disease caused by storage of sphingomyelin in pulmonary macrophages results in frequent respiratory infections and often respiratory failure. Most children succumb before the third year. NPD type B, later in onset and milder in manifestations than NPD type A, is characterized by hepatosplenomegaly with progressive hypersplenism and stable liver dysfunction, gradual deterioration in pulmonary function, osteopenia, and atherogenic lipid profile. Progressive and/or clinically significant neurologic manifestations occur infrequently. Survival to adulthood can occur.

Diagnosis/testing: The diagnosis of ASM deficiency is established by detection of either biallelic pathogenic variants in SMPD1 or residual ASM enzyme activity that is less than 10% of controls (in peripheral blood lymphocytes or cultured skin fibroblasts).

Management: Treatment of manifestations: Surveillance: Circumstances to avoid: NPD-B: Contact sports in those who have splenomegaly.

Genetic counseling: ASM deficiency is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner. At conception, each sib of an affected individual has a 25% chance of being affected, a 50% chance of being an asymptomatic carrier, and a 25% chance of being unaffected and not a carrier. Carrier testing for at-risk relatives and prenatal diagnosis for pregnancies at increased risk are possible if both SMPD1 pathogenic variants in the family are known. Prenatal diagnosis for pregnancies at 25% risk is also possible by testing of ASM enzyme activity.

Publication types

  • Review