Chanarin-Dorfman Disease

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Chanarin-Dorfman Disease: A Comprehensive Overview


Chanarin-Dorfman disease (CDD), also known as Wolman disease, is a rare, inherited metabolic disorder characterized by the accumulation of cholesterol esters in various tissues of the body. This accumulation leads to a range of health complications, including liver disease, adrenal insufficiency, and neurodevelopmental problems.


CDD is caused by mutations in the gene that encodes the enzyme lysosomal acid lipase (LAL). LAL is responsible for hydrolyzing cholesterol esters into free cholesterol and fatty acids within lysosomes, the cell organelles that break down cellular material. Mutations in the LAL gene result in reduced or absent LAL activity, leading to the accumulation of cholesterol esters in lysosomes.

Clinical Manifestations

CDD typically presents in infancy or early childhood, with a wide range of clinical manifestations. The severity of symptoms can vary depending on the extent of LAL deficiency.

Neonatal Presentation

Neonates with CDD often present with:

  • Hepatomegaly (enlarged liver)
  • Splenomegaly (enlarged spleen)
  • Pericardial effusion (fluid buildup around the heart)
  • Ascites (fluid buildup in the abdomen)
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, vomiting)

Infantile Presentation

In infants, CDD may cause:

  • Failure to thrive
  • Developmental delay
  • Adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease)
  • Central nervous system abnormalities (seizures, developmental regression)

Later Childhood Presentation

Older children with CDD may experience:

  • Growth retardation
  • Hepatosplenomegaly
  • Adrenal insufficiency
  • Premature arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • Neuropsychiatric problems (depression, anxiety)


The diagnosis of CDD is based on clinical findings, family history, and laboratory testing. Laboratory tests may include:

  • Blood tests to measure cholesterol esters and other lipids
  • Liver function tests
  • Adrenal function tests
  • Genetic testing to confirm the diagnosis

Differential Diagnosis

CDD must be differentiated from other conditions that cause similar symptoms, such as:

  • Niemann-Pick disease
  • Gaucher disease
  • Pompe disease
  • Lysosomal acid lipase deficiency


There is no cure for CDD. Treatment focuses on managing the symptoms and complications of the disease. Management strategies include:

  • Liver Transplantation: Liver transplantation is the only definitive treatment for CDD. It can improve liver function and reduce cholesterol ester accumulation.
  • Enzyme Replacement Therapy (ERT): ERT involves the administration of recombinant LAL to supplement the deficient enzyme activity. ERT can stabilize neurological symptoms and prevent adrenal insufficiency.
  • Adrenal Hormone Replacement: Patients with adrenal insufficiency require lifelong hormone replacement therapy.
  • Dietary Management: A low-fat, low-cholesterol diet can help reduce cholesterol intake and minimize the accumulation of cholesterol esters.
  • Supportive Care: Supportive care includes monitoring for complications, managing gastrointestinal symptoms, and providing psychological support.


The prognosis of CDD varies depending on the severity of the disease. With early diagnosis and optimal treatment, the survival rate can be significantly improved. However, some patients, especially those with severe neurological involvement, may not survive beyond early childhood.

Genetic Counseling

CDD is an autosomal recessive disorder, meaning that both parents must carry a mutated copy of the LAL gene for the child to inherit the disease. Genetic counseling can help affected families understand the inheritance pattern and recurrence risks.


Chanarin-Dorfman disease is a rare but complex metabolic disorder with a wide range of clinical manifestations. Early diagnosis and comprehensive management are crucial to improve the prognosis and quality of life for affected individuals. Advances in enzyme replacement therapy and liver transplantation have significantly altered the outlook for patients with CDD. Ongoing research continues to explore new therapeutic approaches and improve the understanding of this multifaceted disease.

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