Sign Up for a Free Account
  • Updated 11.01.2018
  • Released 02.01.1994
  • Expires For CME 11.01.2021

Single enzyme defects of peroxisomal beta-oxidation


This article includes discussion of single enzyme defects of peroxisomal beta-oxidationACOX1 deficiency, Acyl-CoA oxidase deficiency, D-bifunctional protein deficiency, HSD17B4 deficiency, and thiolase deficiency. The foregoing terms may include synonyms, similar disorders, variations in usage, and abbreviations.


Exome sequencing continues to enlarge the spectrum of single enzyme defects of peroxisomal beta-oxidation. In this article, the author highlights 4 patients from 2 families with mutations in the peroxisomal membrane protein acyl-CoA binding domain containing protein 5 (ACBD5) that result in reduced beta-oxidation of very long-chain fatty acids.

Key points

• Recognized “single enzyme defects of peroxisomal beta-oxidation” include deficiencies of acyl-CoA oxidase 1 (ACOX1), acyl-CoA oxidase 2 (ACOX2), D-bifunctional protein (HSD17B4), sterol-carrier protein X (SCP2), alpha-methylacyl-CoA racemase (AMACR), ATP-binding cassette transporter protein family D member 3 (ABCD3), and acyl-CoA binding domain containing protein 5 (ACBD5).

• Of these rare diseases, ACOX1 and HSD17B4 deficiencies are most common and typically present in infancy, whereas the more rare SCP2 and AMACR deficiencies are primarily found in adults.

• Neonatal hypotonia and neonatal seizures refractory to conventional therapy are the most consistent manifestations of ACOX1 and HSD17B4 deficiencies.

• Biochemical analyses, including plasma very long-chain fatty acids, branched-chain fatty acids, and bile acid intermediates, are essential for establishing a diagnosis.

• No effective treatment is currently available for deficiencies of ACOX1 or HSD17B4.

Historical note and terminology

Peroxisomes are cell organelles present in nearly all eukaryotic cells (30; 57). They were first described as "microbodies" in 1954 during electron-microscopic examination of mouse kidney cells (63). Peroxisomes contain numerous enzymes that participate in multiple metabolic pathways (59; 44). However, it was not until 1973 that an association between the presence of peroxisomes, their function, and human disease was established (26).

In some peroxisomal disorders, such as Zellweger syndrome, neonatal adrenoleukodystrophy, and infantile Refsum disease, peroxisomes are absent, decreased in number, or severely abnormal, resulting in defects in the multiple metabolic pathways found in this organelle (27). These diseases are referred to as disorders of peroxisomal biogenesis. In contrast, in a subgroup of peroxisomal disorders the organelles are present but distinct peroxisomal enzymes are absent or defective; these conditions are referred to as single enzyme defects (80).

In 1976, Lazarow and de Duve showed that a fatty acid beta-oxidation system different from the mitochondrial system is present in peroxisomes (39). Subsequent research has shown 2 complete sets of beta-oxidation enzymes in this organelle (80). Defects in several proteins that participate in peroxisomal beta-oxidation that lead to severe diseases in humans have been described (52; 80). One is the adrenoleukodystrophy protein, deficient in the most frequent peroxisomal disorder, X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (52). Although peroxisomal beta-oxidation of very long-chain fatty acids is deficient in this disorder, the defective protein is a peroxisomal membrane protein of unknown function that belongs to the superfamily of ATP-binding cassette transmembrane transporters. Defects in 3 enzymes whose roles in peroxisomal fatty acid beta-oxidation are now well established (acyl-CoA oxidase, D-bifunctional protein, and alpha-methylacyl-CoA racemase) have only been described since 1988. Deficiency of a fourth enzyme, 3-ketoacyl-CoA thiolase, was previously reported, but this entity is now thought not to exist. In 2006, a patient with confirmed deficiency of peroxisomal sterol carrier protein X, which also has 3-ketoacyl-CoA thiolase activity, was described (21).

In 1988, Poll-The and associates reported the cases of 2 siblings whose phenotype resembled neonatal adrenoleukodystrophy but for whom biopsy findings revealed the presence of peroxisomes in the liver. Additional immunoblotting studies of these patients with "pseudo-neonatal adrenoleukodystrophy" revealed the absence of the peroxisomal beta-oxidation enzyme acyl-CoA oxidase (62).

A patient with a peroxisomal beta-oxidation defect at the level of the bifunctional enzyme was reported by Watkins and colleagues in 1989 (88). Although the initial report claimed that the patient lacked L-bifunctional protein, it has been established that he lacked D-bifunctional protein (73). Several other documented cases of D-bifunctional protein deficiency have been reported, and this is the most frequently diagnosed of the single enzyme defects of peroxisomal fatty acid beta-oxidation (50). Wanders and coworkers divided D-bifunctional protein-deficient patients into 3 subgroups based on the extent of their enzyme deficiency. As the name implies, “bifunctional” protein encompasses 2 primary enzyme activities, enoyl-CoA hydratase and 3-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase. Type I patients lack both activities, whereas type II lack only hydratase activity and type III lack only the dehydrogenase (80). In a large series published in 2006, the percentages of patients with types I, II, or III D-bifunctional protein deficiency were reported to be 27%, 38%, and 45%, respectively (16). Exome sequencing has been instrumental in identifying longer-surviving patients with compound heterozygous mutations. Adolescent brothers with milder symptoms were found to have a missense mutation in the hydratase domain of one allele and a missense mutation in the dehydrogenase domain of the other allele, suggesting they represent a new classification (type IV) (47).

In 1986, Goldfischer and associates had reported a patient whose clinical presentation and course resembled that of Zellweger syndrome (25). Peroxisomes were present in liver tissue of this patient and the term "pseudo-Zellweger syndrome" was used to describe this situation where there was a discrepancy between the clinical phenotype and the results of pathological examination. Additional studies at that time suggested that the peroxisomal enzyme 3-ketoacyl-CoA thiolase (ACAA1) was absent in this patient's liver (65). However, this case was reinvestigated and it was found that thiolase was present in postmortem brain, whereas D-bifunctional protein was absent (23). Mutational analysis confirmed the defect in this patient’s HSD17B4 (hydroxysteroid (17-beta) dehydrogenase 4, formerly DBP or D-bifunctional protein) gene. These authors concluded that there is no longer evidence for the existence of thiolase deficiency as a distinct clinical entity.

Other rare causes of peroxisomal beta-oxidation defects continue to be identified. A child with bile acid abnormalities, ataxia, and cognitive impairment was found to have a mutation in ACOX2 via exome sequencing (77). Routine workup of another child with bile acid abnormalities for the possibility of peroxisomal involvement revealed a lack of ABCD3, an abundant peroxisome membrane protein that facilitates entry of branched-chain fatty acids and bile acid precursors into the organelle (20). Mutations in the SCP2 and ACBD5 genes are also rare causes of beta-oxidation defects (21; 18).

It was not until 2000 that the first diagnosis of alpha-methylacyl-CoA racemase (AMACR) deficiency was reported (14). Unlike acyl-CoA oxidase (ACOX1) deficiency and HSD17B4/D-bifunctional protein deficiency, in which symptoms are present at birth, racemase deficiency is primarily an adult-onset neuropathy. Similarly, the single patient with sterol carrier protein X (SCPX, now named SCP2) deficiency first experienced neurologic symptoms in the second decade of life (21).

As peroxisomal disorders in general and especially peroxisomal single enzyme defects are still a relatively "young" group of disorders, many aspects such as variations in the initially described phenotypes, the natural history of disease, the characterization of the underlying genetic defects and the evolution of the clinical manifestations from these genetic defects are still under investigation.

This is an article preview.
Start a Free Account
to access the full version.

  • Nearly 3,000 illustrations, including video clips of neurologic disorders.

  • Every article is reviewed by our esteemed Editorial Board for accuracy and currency.

  • Full spectrum of neurology in 1,200 comprehensive articles.

  • Listen to MedLink on the go with Audio versions of each article.

Questions or Comment?

MedLink®, LLC

3525 Del Mar Heights Rd, Ste 304
San Diego, CA 92130-2122

Toll Free (U.S. + Canada): 800-452-2400

US Number: +1-619-640-4660



ISSN: 2831-9125