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Alice Yang Zhang, Naveen Mysore, Hojatollah Vali, Jamie Koenekoop, Sang Ni Cao, Shen Li, Huanan Ren, Vafa Keser, Irma Lopez-Solache, Sorath Noorani Siddiqui, Ayesha Khan, Jeannie Mui, Kelly Sears, Jim Dixon, Jeremy Schwartzentruber, Jacek Majewski, Nancy Braverman, Robert K. Koenekoop; Choroideremia Is a Systemic Disease With Lymphocyte Crystals and Plasma Lipid and RBC Membrane Abnormalities. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2015;56(13):8158-8165. doi: 10.1167/iovs.14-15751.
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Photoreceptor neuronal degenerations are common, incurable causes of human blindness affecting 1 in 2000 patients worldwide. Only half of all patients are associated with known mutations in over 250 disease genes, prompting our research program to identify the remaining new genes. Most retinal degenerations are restricted to the retina, but photoreceptor degenerations can also be found in a wide variety of systemic diseases. We identified an X-linked family from Sri Lanka with a severe choroidal degeneration and postulated a new disease entity. Because of phenotypic overlaps with Bietti's crystalline dystrophy, which was recently found to have systemic features, we hypothesized that a systemic disease may be present in this new disease as well.
For phenotyping, we performed detailed eye exams with in vivo retinal imaging by optical coherence tomography. For genotyping, we performed whole exome sequencing, followed by Sanger sequencing confirmations and cosegregation. Systemic investigations included electron microscopy studies of peripheral blood cells in patients and in normal controls and detailed fatty acid profiles (both plasma and red blood cell [RBC] membranes). Fatty acid levels were compared to normal controls, and only values two standard deviations above or below normal controls were further evaluated.
The family segregated a REP1 mutation, suggesting choroideremia (CHM). We then found crystals in peripheral blood lymphocytes and discovered significant plasma fatty acid abnormalities and RBC membrane abnormalities (i.e., elevated plasmalogens). To replicate our discoveries, we expanded the cohort to nine CHM patients, genotyped them for REP1 mutations, and found the same abnormalities (crystals and fatty acid abnormalities) in all patients.
Previously, CHM was thought to be restricted to the retina. We show, to our knowledge for the first time, that CHM is a systemic condition with prominent crystals in lymphocytes and significant fatty acid abnormalities.
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