Disturbed brain ether lipid metabolism and histology in Sjögren-Larsson syndrome

Pippa Staps, William B. Rizzo, Frédéric M. Vaz, Marianna Bugiani, Martin Giera, Bram Heijs, Antoine H.C. van Kampen, Mia L. Pras-Raves, Marjolein Breur, Annemieke Groen, Sacha Ferdinandusse, Marinette van der Graaf, Gert Van Goethem, Martin Lammens, Ron A. Wevers, Michèl A.A.P. Willemsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Sjögren-Larsson syndrome (SLS) is a rare neurometabolic syndrome caused by deficient fatty aldehyde dehydrogenase. Patients exhibit intellectual disability, spastic paraplegia, and ichthyosis. The accumulation of fatty alcohols and fatty aldehydes has been demonstrated in plasma and skin but never in brain. Brain magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy studies, however, have shown an abundant lipid peak in the white matter of patients with SLS, suggesting lipid accumulation in the brain as well. Using histopathology, mass spectrometry imaging, and lipidomics, we studied the morphology and the lipidome of a postmortem brain of a 65-year-old female patient with genetically confirmed SLS and compared the results with a matched control brain. Histopathological analyses revealed structural white matter abnormalities with the presence of small lipid droplets, deficient myelin, and astrogliosis. Biochemically, severely disturbed lipid profiles were found in both white and gray matter of the SLS brain, with accumulation of fatty alcohols and ether lipids. Particularly, long-chain unsaturated ether lipid species accumulated, most prominently in white matter. Also, there was a striking accumulation of odd-chain fatty alcohols and odd-chain ether(phospho)lipids. Our results suggest that the central nervous system involvement in SLS is caused by the accumulation of fatty alcohols leading to a disbalance between ether lipid and glycero(phospho)lipid metabolism resulting in a profoundly disrupted brain lipidome. Our data show that SLS is not a pure leukoencephalopathy, but also a gray matter disease. Additionally, the histopathological abnormalities suggest that astrocytes and microglia might play a pivotal role in the underlying disease mechanism, possibly contributing to the impairment of myelin maintenance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1265-1278
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Inherited Metabolic Disease
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Sjögren-Larsson syndrome
  • brain
  • ether lipids
  • fatty aldehyde dehydrogenase
  • lipidomics
  • mass spectrometry imaging
  • odd-chain fatty alcohols
  • pathology
  • phospholipids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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