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The inherited metabolic disorders of glycosphingolipid (GSL) metabolism are a relatively rare group of diseases that have diverse and often neurodegenerative phenotypes. Typically, a deficiency in catabolic enzyme activity leads to lysosomal storage of GSL substrates and in many diseases, several other glycoconjugates. A novel generic approach to treating these diseases has been termed substrate reduction therapy (SRT), and the discovery and development of N-alkylated imino sugars as effective and approved drugs is discussed. An understanding of the molecular mechanism for the inhibition of the key enzyme in GSL biosynthesis, ceramide glucosyltransferase (CGT) by N-alkylated imino sugars, has also lead to compound design for improvements to inhibitory potency, bioavailability, enzyme selectivity, and biological safety. Following a successful clinical evaluation of one compound, N-butyl-deoxynojirimycin [(NB-DNJ), miglustat, Zavesca], for treating type I Gaucher disease, issues regarding the significance of side effects and CNS access have been addressed as exposure of drug to patients has increased. An alternative experimental approach to treat specific glycosphingolipid (GSL) lysosomal storage diseases is to use imino sugars as molecular chaperons that assist protein folding and stability of mutant enzymes. The principles of chaperon-mediated therapy (CMT) are described, and the potential efficacy and preclinical status of imino sugars is compared with substrate reduction therapy (SRT). The increasing use of imino sugars for clinical evaluation of a group of storage diseases that are complex and often intractable disorders to treat has considerable benefit. This is particularly so given the ability of small molecules to be orally available, penetrate the central nervous system (CNS), and have well-characterized biological and pharmacological properties.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





43R - 52R


Animals, Drug Evaluation, Preclinical, Enzyme Inhibitors, Gaucher Disease, Glucosyltransferases, Glycosphingolipids, Humans, Imino Sugars, Sphingolipidoses