Two patients with primary biliary cirrhosis who were increasingly incapacitated by xanthomatous neuropathy are described. Treatment with a low fat diet and cholestyramine was unhelpful but repeated plasmaphoresis by simple venesection in one and plasma exchange using an IBM blood cell separator in the other over a period of several months completely relieved the symptoms of the neuropathy, caused skin xanthomata to recede, and lowered plasma lipid levels in both patients. There was no evidence that this procedure was associated with any deleterious effects on the liver. The size of the cholesterol pool in xanthomata in one patient was estimated to be approximately 35 g, and from the plasma cholesterol response to plasmaphoresis at varying frequency it was suggested that the excess of cholesterol synthesis over degradation was less than 0·3 g/day in one patient and less than 0·4 g/day in the other. On the basis of the response in these patients it is suggested that the turnover rates of lipid pools are relatively slow in biliary cirrhosis and that cholesterol accumulation is more likely to be due to a reduced catabolic rate than to an increased synthetic rate of cholesterol. Plasmaphoresis or plasma exchange are useful methods of treatment for the rare patient afflicted by this resistant and distressing complication of biliary cirrhosis.
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