The presence of phytanic acid in tissues and plasma has been considered diagnostic of heredopathia atactica polyneuritiformis (Refsum's disease), but recently slightly raised plasma phytanic acid levels have been reported in other conditions. Forty two normal people were found to have a phytanic acid level of 0-33 mumol/l. Fourteen patients with heredopathia atactica polyneuritiformis had a plasma phytanic acid level before treatment of 992-6400 mumol/l. Five patients with retinitis pigmentosa but not heredopathia atactica polyneuritiformis had plasma levels of 38-192 mumol/l. It was concluded that some patients with retinitis pigmentosa without heredopathia atactica polyneuritiformis but a raised plasma phytanic acid may represent a group of patients with a disease or diseases as yet uncharacterised apart from the retinal condition.
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