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Abstract Acetyl-dl-leucine is a derivative of the branched chain amino acid leucine. In observational clinical studies, acetyl-dl-leucine improved symptoms of ataxia, in particular in patients with the lysosomal storage disorder, Niemann-Pick disease type C1. Here, we investigated acetyl-dl-leucine and its enantiomers acetyl-l-leucine and acetyl-d-leucine in symptomatic Npc1−/− mice and observed improvement in ataxia with both individual enantiomers and acetyl-dl-leucine. When acetyl-dl-leucine and acetyl-l-leucine were administered pre-symptomatically to Npc1−/− mice, both treatments delayed disease progression and extended life span, whereas acetyl-d-leucine did not. These data are consistent with acetyl-l-leucine being the neuroprotective enantiomer. Altered glucose and antioxidant metabolism were implicated as one of the potential mechanisms of action of the l-enantiomer in Npc1−/− mice. When the standard of care drug miglustat and acetyl-dl-leucine were used in combination significant synergy resulted. In agreement with these pre-clinical data, when Niemann-Pick disease type C1 patients were evaluated after 12 months of acetyl-dl-leucine treatment, rates of disease progression were slowed, with stabilization or improvement in multiple neurological domains. A beneficial effect of acetyl-dl-leucine on gait was also observed in this study in a mouse model of GM2 gangliosidosis (Sandhoff disease) and in Tay-Sachs and Sandhoff disease patients in individual-cases of off-label-use. Taken together, we have identified an unanticipated neuroprotective effect of acetyl-l-leucine and underlying mechanisms of action in lysosomal storage diseases, supporting its further evaluation in clinical trials in lysosomal disorders.

Original publication




Journal article


Brain Communications


Oxford University Press (OUP)

Publication Date