The Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome: a novel metabolic way of understanding developmental biology, embryogenesis, and dysmorphology
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The brief history of the Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome (SLOS) (MIM 270400) reflects that of latter 20th century dysmorphology and biochemical and molecular genetics: from its first description as a rare but characteristic multiple malformation syndrome known only to a handful of dysmorphologists, to a relatively common Garrodian defect with a complex molecular basis that has captured the attention of researchers and basic scientists from the fields as diverse as embryology, developmental biology, sterol biochemistry, epidemiology, and teratology. The discovery of the underlying biochemical defect - deficiency of 3beta-hydroxysteroid-Delta7-reductase (DHCR7), an enzyme catalyzing the last step of cholesterol biosynthesis, and the resultant generalized cholesterol deficiency - has led to an explosion of knowledge of this biochemical pathway and to a paradigm shift in the recognition of metabolic deficiencies as causes of dysmorphic syndromes. Characterization of the human DHCR7 gene and the identification of mutations in patients with SLOS have revealed a complex picture of molecular heterogeneity and provided insights into the structure and function of DHCR7. SLOS is the first metabolic malformation syndrome with profound effects on the body plan, and its discovery has paved the way to the discovery of a number of other defects of the cholesterol synthetic pathway.
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