To determine whether adipose and red blood cell membrane lipids, particularly long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, are significantly correlated with phenotype in a family with autosomal dominant Stargardt macular dystrophy (gene locus STGD3). A mutation in the ELOVL4 gene is responsible for the macular dystrophy in this family, and its disease-causing mechanism may be its possible involvement in fatty acid elongation in the retina.

The subjects in this study included 18 adult family members known to have a 2-base pair deletion in the ELOVL4 gene. Control subjects included 26 family members without the mutation. Each subject received a complete eye examination including fundus photographs, the results of which were used to grade the severity of macular dystrophy on a 3-tier scale. Red blood cell membrane and adipose tissue lipids were analyzed as an indication of short-term and long-term dietary fatty acid intake.

When adipose lipids were analyzed, there was a significant inverse relationship between phenotypic severity and the level of eicosapentaenoic acid (r = -0.54; P = .04). When red blood cell lipids were analyzed, there were significant inverse relationships between phenotypic severity and levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (r = -0.55; P = .02) and docosahexaenoic acid (r = -0.48; P = .04).

These results indicate that the phenotypic diversity in this family may be related to differences in dietary fat intake as reflected by adipose and red blood cell lipids.

This study demonstrates that dietary factors can influence the severity of an inherited human macular dystrophy.

PMID: 16476896

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