Phytosterolaemia (beta-sitosterolaemia), a rare, autosomal recessive disorder, has not hitherto been reported in Southern Africa. We report four new homozygous patients, from three unrelated families with significant beta-sitosterolaemia (6.6-11.3%), campesterolaemia (2.2-4.6%) and clearly detectable, though unquantified, levels of cholestanol. Three of the four patients had characteristic cutaneous and tendinous xanthomas within the first decade of life. The fourth patient, a 5 year old, was free of xanthomas despite persistently elevated concentrations of plant sterols in her plasma. All our patients were female bringing the male:female ratio in reported cases to 8:23. All were at or below the 50th percentile for height and weight, and presented at some stage with borderline, hypochromic anaemia associated with red cell abnormalities and thrombocytopaenia. The oldest patient showed suggestive clinical evidence of atherosclerosis affecting her aorta, ileofemoral bifurcation and possibly coronary arteries. All homozygotes responded to a diet restricted in phytosterols and the administration of cholestyramine with falls in plasma sterols of up to 68%. The recent discovery of a possible inherited defect in the synthesis of HMG CoA reductase in patients with phytosterolaemia makes this disorder a model system for studying the biological role of this enzyme in regulating the absorption and clearance of sterols other than cholesterol, and the factors governing the sterol composition of cell membranes.
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