Glucocerebroside beta-glucosidase (glucocerebrosidase) activity was determined from peripheral blood lymphocytes and cultured skin fibroblasts of eight full sibs in a French-Canadian family at risk for Gaucher disease, an autosomal recessive sphingolipidosis resulting from deficient glucocerebrosidase activity. The diagnosis of type 1, non-neuronopathic Gaucher disease was made in all of the five affected sibs on the basis of deficient (7.5 to 15.5% of control mean) glucocerebrosidase activity and absence of neurological involvement. Normal levels of enzyme activity were found in two of the three asymptomatic sibs. The third asymptomatic sib had an intermediate level (about 50% of control mean) of fibroblast and lymphocyte glucocerebrosidase activity, indicating that he is a carrier. Considerable clinical heterogeneity was noted among the five affected sibs. One patient is mildly affected and so far has not developed any orthopaedic complications associated with Gaucher disease. His haematological complications were also reversed after splenectomy 24 years ago. In contrast to this mild presentation, the patient's splenectomised sister has been very anaemic and thrombocytopenic. There have been severe orthopaedic complications associated with Gaucher disease, including vertebral compression, avascular necrosis, and pathological fracture of the long bones. The clinical picture of the other three affected sibs appeared to vary between the two extremes. Although the asymptomatic parents of the patients died many years ago, their heterozygous status with respect to Gaucher disease can be deduced by the presence of Gaucher homozygotes, normal homozygotes, and one heterozygote among their eight offspring. Present findings suggest that the clinical variability of type 1 Gaucher disease may be attributed to variable expressions of the same Gaucher mutant alleles, in addition to the presence of multiple mutant alleles that are widely disseminated in the population.
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