Deficiency of 3 beta-hydroxy-delta 5-C27-steroid dehydrogenase, the second enzyme in the sequence that catalyses the synthesis of bile acids from cholesterol, leads to chronic liver disease in childhood as well as to malabsorption of fat and fat soluble vitamins. A 4 year old boy with this condition has been successfully treated by oral administration of a bile acid--chenodeoxycholic acid. He had been jaundiced since birth, grew poorly because of rickets, and had severe pruritus. Plasma transaminase activities were persistently raised. Chenodeoxycholic acid 125 mg twice daily for two months, and then 125 mg daily, cured his jaundice and pruritus, returned his transaminase activities to normal, and eliminated the need for calcitriol for prevention of rickets. On this treatment he has so far remained well for two years. A diagnosis of 3 beta-hydroxy-delta 5-C27-steroid dehydrogenase deficiency should be considered in any child with unexplained chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis, especially if the liver disease is accompanied by a clinically obvious malabsorption of fat soluble vitamins. A simple colorimetric test of the urine confirms the diagnosis and effective treatment can be started.
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