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Familial dysbetalipoproteinemia (type III hyperlipoproteinemia) is a potentially underdiagnosed inherited dyslipidemia associated with greatly increased risk of coronary and peripheral vascular disease. The mixed hyperlipidemia observed in this disorder usually responds well to appropriate medical therapy and lifestyle modification. Although there are characteristic clinical features such as palmar and tuberous xanthomata, associated with dysbetalipoproteinemia, they are not always present, and their absence cannot be used to exclude the disorder. The routine lipid profile cannot distinguish dysbetalipoproteinemia from other causes of mixed hyperlipidemia and so additional investigations are required for confident diagnosis or exclusion. A range of investigations that have been proposed as potential diagnostic tests are discussed in this review, but the definitive biochemical test for dysbetalipoproteinemia is widely considered to be beta quantification. Beta quantification can determine the presence of "β-VLDL" in the supernatant following ultracentrifugation and whether the VLDL cholesterol to triglyceride ratio is elevated. Both features are considered hallmarks of the disease. However, beta quantification and other specialist tests are not widely available and are not high-throughput tests that can practically be applied to all patients with mixed hyperlipidemia. Using apolipoprotein B (as a ratio either to total or non-HDL cholesterol or as part of a multi-step algorithm) as an initial test to select patients for further investigation is a promising approach. Several studies have demonstrated a high degree of diagnostic sensitivity and specificity using these approaches and apolipoprotein B is a relatively low-cost test that is widely available on high-throughput platforms. Genetic testing is also important in the diagnosis, but it should be noted that most individuals with an E2/2 genotype do not suffer from remnant hyperlipidemia and around 10% of familial dysbetalipoproteinemia cases are caused by rarer, autosomal dominant mutations in APOE that will only be detected if the gene is fully sequenced. Wider implementation of diagnostic pathways utilizing apo B could lead to more rational use of specialist investigations and more consistent detection of patients with dysbetalipoproteinemia. Without the application of a consistent evidence-based approach to identifying dysbetalipoproteinemia, many cases are likely to remain undiagnosed.


Christopher S Boot, Ahai Luvai, Robert D G Neely. The clinical and laboratory investigation of dysbetalipoproteinemia. Critical reviews in clinical laboratory sciences. 2020 Nov;57(7):458-469

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PMID: 32255405

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