Oral L-serine supplementation reduces production of neurotoxic deoxysphingolipids in mice and humans with hereditary sensory autonomic neuropathy type 1

J Clin Invest. 2011 Dec;121(12):4735-45. doi: 10.1172/JCI57549.


Hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy type 1 (HSAN1) causes sensory loss that predominantly affects the lower limbs, often preceded by hyperpathia and spontaneous shooting or lancinating pain. It is caused by several missense mutations in the genes encoding 2 of the 3 subunits of the enzyme serine palmitoyltransferase (SPT). The mutant forms of the enzyme show a shift from their canonical substrate L-serine to the alternative substrate L-alanine. This shift leads to increased formation of neurotoxic deoxysphingolipids (dSLs). Our initial analysis showed that in HEK cells transfected with SPTLC1 mutants, dSL generation was modulated in vitro in the presence of various amino acids. We therefore examined whether in vivo specific amino acid substrate supplementation influenced dSL levels and disease severity in HSAN1. In mice bearing a transgene expressing the C133W SPTLC1 mutant linked to HSAN1, a 10% L-serine–enriched diet reduced dSL levels. L-serine supplementation also improved measures of motor and sensory performance as well as measures of male fertility. In contrast, a 10% L-alanine–enriched diet increased dSL levels and led to severe peripheral neuropathy. In a pilot study with 14 HSAN1 patients, L-serine supplementation similarly reduced dSL levels. These observations support the hypothesis that an altered substrate selectivity of the mutant SPT is key to the pathophysiology of HSAN1 and raise the prospect of l-serine supplementation as a first treatment option for this disorder.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alanine / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Depression, Chemical
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathies / drug therapy*
  • Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathies / genetics
  • Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathies / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male / drug therapy
  • Infertility, Male / genetics
  • Lipids
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation, Missense
  • Neurotoxins / biosynthesis*
  • Pain Perception / drug effects
  • Pilot Projects
  • Point Mutation
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Sciatic Nerve / drug effects
  • Sciatic Nerve / pathology
  • Serine / administration & dosage
  • Serine / chemistry
  • Serine / therapeutic use*
  • Serine C-Palmitoyltransferase / deficiency
  • Serine C-Palmitoyltransferase / genetics
  • Sphingolipids / metabolism
  • Sphingosine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Sphingosine / biosynthesis
  • Stereoisomerism
  • Young Adult


  • Lipids
  • Neurotoxins
  • Sphingolipids
  • Serine
  • SPTLC1 protein, human
  • Serine C-Palmitoyltransferase
  • Sphingosine
  • Alanine
  • spisulosine