Wolman disease

Wolman disease is a rare autosomal recessive inborn error of metabolism resulting in the deposition of fats in multiple organs. 

Patients with Wolman disease typically present during the first two months of life with failure to thrive, diarrhoea and vomiting. Abdominal distention may be present because of hepatomegaly, splenomegaly and generalised lymphadenopathy 3.

The underlying biochemical abnormality is a deficiency of acid lipase/acid esterase. These enzymes are responsible for splitting triglycerides and cholesterol esters 4.  The deficiency results in accumulation of lipid esters in multiple tissues including the liver, spleen, lymph nodes, and small bowel.

Marked accumulation of cholesterol and fatty acid crystals also occurs within the cells of the adrenal cortex, resulting in enlargement of the adrenal glands. Saponification (accumulation of glyceryl ether lipids) of this tissue with subsequent calcification results in the characteristic radiological features. 

Plain radiograph
  • bilateral calcification of the adrenal glands, which are enlarged 3,5 
CT
  • may show hepatosplenomegaly (with fatty infiltration of the liver)
  • bilaterally enlarged calcified (punctate calcification) adrenal glands that retain their normal triangular shapes
  • may show enlarged fatty infiltrated lymph nodes
MRI
  • hepatosplenomegaly
  • bilateral adrenal enlargement
  • bilateral adrenal calcifications
    • T1: low signal foci
    • T2: low signal foci

Treatment approaches have included total parenteral nutrition (TPN), corticosteroids, plasma infusion, and various dietary supplements, all without success, with death in infancy ensuing (usually within 6 months). Bone marrow transplantation has been reported with some success.

It takes its name from one of the neuropathologists who first described the entity in 1956:

  • Moshe Wolman (1914-)
  • Abramov
  • Schorr

For adrenal calcification see: differential diagnosis for adrenal gland calcification.


Inborn errors of metabolism
Share Article

Article Information

rID: 5949
System: Paediatrics
Section: Syndromes
Tag: cases
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Primary familial xanthomatosis

Support Radiopaedia and see fewer ads

  • Drag
    Case 1
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 2
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Updating… Please wait.
    Loadinganimation

    Alert accept

    Error Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

    Alert accept Thank you for updating your details.