We investigated the enzyme defect in late cholesterol biosynthesis in the Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome, a recessively inherited developmental disorder characterized by facial dysmorphism, mental retardation, and multiple organ congenital anomalies. Reduced plasma and tissue cholesterol with increased 7-dehydrocholesterol concentrations are biochemical features diagnostic of the inherited enzyme defect. Using isotope incorporation assays, we measured the transformation of the precursors, [3 alpha- 3H]lathosterol and [1,2-3H]7-dehydrocholesterol into cholesterol by liver microsomes from seven controls and four Smith-Lemli-Opitz homozygous subjects. The introduction of the double bond in lathosterol at C-5 to form 7-dehydrocholesterol that is catalyzed by lathosterol-5-dehydrogenase was equally rapid in controls and homozygotes liver microsomes (120 +/- 8 vs 100 +/- 7 pmol/mg protein per min, P = NS). In distinction, the reduction of the double bond at C-7  in 7-dehydrocholesterol to yield cholesterol catalyzed by 7-dehydrocholesterol-delta 7-reductase was nine times greater in controls than homozygotes microsomes (365 +/- 23 vs 40 +/- 4 pmol/mg protein per min, P < 0.0001). These results demonstrate that the pathway of lathosterol to cholesterol in human liver includes 7-dehydrocholesterol as a key intermediate. In Smith-Lemli-Opitz homozygotes, the transformation of 7-dehydrocholesterol to cholesterol by hepatic microsomes was blocked although 7-dehydrocholesterol was produced abundantly from lathosterol. Thus, lathosterol 5-dehydrogenase is equally active which indicates that homozygotes liver microsomes are viable. Accordingly, microsomal 7-dehydrocholesterol-delta 7-reductase is inherited abnormally in Smith-Lemli-Opitz homozygotes.
S Shefer, G Salen, A K Batta, A Honda, G S Tint, M Irons, E R Elias, T C Chen, M F Holick