Leukocyte glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) activity was measured in 39 normal subjects, 32 neurological controls, 66 patients with progressive ataxic disorders, 32 with multiple system atrophy, 40 with Parkinson's disease, eight with Steele-Richardson-Olszewski syndrome, eight with juvenile Parkinsonism and four with the dystonia-Parkinsonism syndrome. GDH activity was reproducible to within 10% in leukocyte pellets stored at -70 degrees C for up to 9 months, and did not vary with sex or age in control subjects. There was marked variation in the relative proportions of heat stable and heat labile forms of GDH between control subjects and on repeated assay in the same subject. Total leukocyte GDH activity was similar in normal subjects and neurological controls. Mean total GDH activity was reduced in all patient groups by between 15 to 29% compared with controls. Fourteen patients had total GDH activity below 50% of the control mean, but low values were not specific for any one disease (five had ataxic disorders, four Parkinson's disease, three multiple system atrophy, one juvenile Parkinsonism, and one dystonia-Parkinsonism). The heat labile fraction of GDH represented about 20% of total activity in control subjects, and 27% in the patients with reduced total GDH activity. Thus low GDH activity was not disease-specific in this study, and the heat-labile GDH fraction was not selectively affected. "Reduced" leucocyte GDH activity in some patients may represent no more than the lower end of a normal distribution.
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