Lysosomal sequestration of endocytosed LDL-derived cholesterol, premature and abnormal enrichment of cholesterol in trans Golgi cisternae and accompanying anomalies in intracellular sterol trafficking are the hallmark phenotypic features of the Niemann-Pick C (NPC) lesion. A variable severity of these alterations has been observed, with only partial correlation between clinical and biochemical phenotypes. NPC also affects the metabolism of sphingolipids, and other biochemical abnormalities have been reported. Occurrence of neurofibrillary tangles in the brain of patients with a slowly progressive course is a recent intriguing observation. Genetic heterogeneity was established by cell hybridization and linkage studies. The two complementation groups could not be distinguished from each other by clinical, cellular or biochemical criteria, suggesting that the two gene products may interact or function sequentially. The major (> 90% of patients) NPC1 gene was mapped to 18q11 and recently isolated by positional cloning. The cDNA sequence predicts a 1278-amino acid protein, with 13 to 16 possible transmembrane regions and a putative cholesterol-sensing domain. Two murine models of the disease involving the same gene are known. The murine cDNA and the npc(nih) mutation have been characterized. Described homologies of the NPC1 protein are in line with its putative involvement in cellular cholesterol traffic.