Autopsy findings in late-onset Pompe disease: A case report and systematic review of the literature

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Molecular Genetics and Metabolism

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Late-onset Pompe disease (LOPD) is a rare cause of declining proximal muscle strength and respiratory function that can also affect other organ systems. The development of enzyme replacement therapy has made it one of the few inherited muscle disorders with treatment, but clinical response is difficult to assess due to the variable and often slow progression of illness. A better understanding of the disease's systemic effects can be gleaned through autopsy findings.


The purpose of this study was to: (1) describe the histological findings observed in LOPD, (2) provide correlations between reported histological and clinical findings, and (3) review the literature on autopsy findings in LOPD.


Histological evaluation of autopsy tissues from a 62-year-old woman with LOPD was conducted. A clinical history was obtained by review of the medical records. The literature was reviewed for previously reported histological and clinical findings in LOPD. Based on this case report and information from prior publications, histological and clinical findings for the disease were correlated.


Histologic examination revealed mostly mild vacuolar myopathy typical of glycogen accumulation within skeletal and smooth muscle cells. The most prominent vacuolar myopathy was in quadriceps muscle, which also exhibited chronic myositis with degenerating and regenerating muscle fibers. Transmission electron microscopy disclosed lysosomal glycogen accumulation within skeletal, cardiac, and vascular smooth muscle cells, correlating with published case reports of basilar artery and ascending aortic aneurysms and carotid artery dissection. Organs containing smooth muscle cells (the bladder, intestine, and esophagus) were also affected, explaining reports of symptoms such as urinary incontinence and dysphagia. In addition to glycogen accumulation, there was obvious damage to the contraction apparatus of myofibrils within cardiac and skeletal muscle cells. These histological and ultrastructural findings correlate with the clinical manifestations of LOPD.


This study is the first to describe histological findings of LOPD utilizing both traditional paraffin-processed tissues and epoxy resin embedded tissues for high-resolution light microscopy. The findings are similar to those seen in previous studies, but with improved morphological detail and glycogen preservation. This patient exhibited histological involvement of multiple organs, correlating with the clinical features of LOPD. With the advent of definitive therapy for Pompe disease, it is important to be aware of these findings and use them to develop methods for tracking therapeutic response.


► Autopsy studies are important in understanding the systemic effects of LOPD. ► Multiple organ involvement is evident in LOPD, correlating with clinical findings. ► Histologic quantification of glycogen may be a useful biomarker of ERT response.