The oxidation of very long chain fatty acids and synthesis of ether glycerolipids (plasmalogens) occurs mainly in peroxisomes. Zellweger's cerebrohepatorenal syndrome (CHRS) is a rare, inherited metabolic disease characterized by an apparent absence of peroxisomes, an accumulation of very long chain fatty acids, and a decrease of plasmalogens in tissues and cultured fibroblasts from these patients. As peroxisomes are ubiquitous in mammalian cells, we examined normal and CHRS-cultured fibroblasts for their presence, using an electron microscopic histochemical procedure for the subcellular localization of catalase, a peroxisomal marker enzyme. Small (0.08-0.20 micron) round or slightly oval peroxisomes were seen in both normal and CHRS fibroblasts. The number of peroxisomes was analyzed morphometrically and found to be significantly reduced in all CHRS cell lines. These results are discussed in relation to the underlying defect in peroxisomal function and biogenesis in this disease.

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