Lipoid proteinosis (LP) is a rare disease that affects the skin and the brain. Three distinctive features characterize the disease: a hoarse voice, unusual growths on the skin and mucus membranes, and damage to the temporal lobes or hippocampus of the brain. The symptoms of LP may begin as early as infancy with hoarseness or a weak cry, due to growths on the vocal cords. Skin lesions appear sometime in the next 3 years, leaving acne- or pox-like scars on the face, hands, and mucous membranes. The most characteristic symptom of LP is waxy, yellow, bead-like bumps along the upper and lower edges of the eyelids. Brain damage develops over time and is associated with the development of cognitive abilities and epileptic seizures. Damage to the amygdala, a part of the brain that regulates emotions and perceptions, leads to difficulties in discriminating facial expressions and in making realistic judgments about the trustworthiness of other people. LP is a hereditary disease that equally affects males and females. Nearly a quarter of all reported cases have been in the Afrikaner population of South Africa, but the disease is increasingly being reported from other parts of the world including India. The gene responsible for LP has recently been identified. It performs an unknown function in the skin related to the production of collagen.
There is no cure for LP. Some doctors have had success treating the skin eruptions with oral steroid drugs and oral dimethyl sulphoxide (DMSO). Carbon dioxide laser surgery of thickened vocal cords and eyelid bumps has proved helpful in some studies. Dermabrasion may improve the appearance of the skin lesions. Seizures, if present, may be treated with anticonvulsants.
Lipoid proteinosis has a stable or slowly progressive course. Children with LP may have behavioral or learning difficulties, along with seizures. Obstruction in the throat may require a tracheostomy. Mortality rates in infants and adults are slightly increased because of problems with throat obstructions and upper respiratory tract infections.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and other institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), conduct research related to neurological diseases such as lipoid proteinosis in laboratories at the NIH, and also support additional research through grants to major medical institutions across the country. Much of this research focuses on finding better ways to prevent, treat, and ultimately cure disorders, such as lipoid proteinosis.