Gaucher disease (GD) is the most common lysosomal storage disorder and is caused by inherited deficiencies of glucocerebrosidase, the enzyme responsible for the lysosomal breakdown of the lipid glucosylceramide. GD is characterized by the accumulation of pathological, lipid laden macrophages, so-called Gaucher cells. Following the development of enzyme replacement therapy for GD, the search for suitable surrogate disease markers resulted in the identification of a thousand-fold increased chitinase activity in plasma from symptomatic Gaucher patients and that decreases upon successful therapeutic intervention. Biochemical investigations identified a single enzyme, named chitotriosidase, to be responsible for this activity. Chitotriosidase was found to be an excellent marker for lipid laden macrophages in Gaucher patients and is now widely used to assist clinical management of patients. In the wake of the identification of chitotriosidase, the presence of other members of the chitinase family in mammals was discovered. Amongst these is AMCase, an enzyme recently implicated in the pathogenesis of asthma. Chitinases are omnipresent throughout nature and are also produced by vertebrates in which they play important roles in defence against chitin-containing pathogens and in food processing. © 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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