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Reviewed March 2010
What is Tangier disease?
Tangier disease is an inherited disorder characterized by significantly reduced levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in the blood. HDL transports cholesterol and certain fats called phospholipids from the body's tissues to the liver, where they are removed from the blood. HDL is often referred to as "good cholesterol" because high levels of this substance reduce the chances of developing heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease. Because people with Tangier disease have very low levels of HDL, they have a moderately increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Additional signs and symptoms of Tangier disease include a slightly elevated amount of fat in the blood (mild hypertriglyceridemia); disturbances in nerve function (neuropathy); and enlarged, orange-colored tonsils. Affected individuals often develop atherosclerosis, which is an accumulation of fatty deposits and scar-like tissue in the lining of the arteries. Other features of this condition may include an enlarged spleen (splenomegaly), an enlarged liver (hepatomegaly), clouding of the clear covering of the eye (corneal clouding), and type 2 diabetes.
How common is Tangier disease?
Tangier disease is a rare disorder with approximately 100 cases identified worldwide. More cases are likely undiagnosed. This condition is named after an island off the coast of Virginia where the first affected individuals were identified.
What genes are related to Tangier disease?
Mutations in the ABCA1 gene cause Tangier disease. This gene provides instructions for making a protein that releases cholesterol and phospholipids from cells. These substances are used to make HDL, which transports them to the liver.
Mutations in the ABCA1 gene prevent the release of cholesterol and phospholipids from cells. As a result, these substances accumulate within cells, causing certain body tissues to enlarge and the tonsils to acquire a yellowish-orange color. A buildup of cholesterol can be toxic to cells, leading to impaired cell function or cell death. In addition, the inability to transport cholesterol and phospholipids out of cells results in very low HDL levels, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. These combined factors cause the signs and symptoms of Tangier disease.
Read more about the ABCA1 gene.
How do people inherit Tangier disease?
This condition is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern, which means both copies of the gene in each cell have mutations. The parents of an individual with an autosomal recessive condition each carry one copy of the mutated gene, but they typically do not show signs and symptoms of the condition.
Where can I find information about diagnosis or management of Tangier disease?
These resources address the diagnosis or management of Tangier disease and may include treatment providers.
General information about the diagnosis and management of genetic conditions is available in the Handbook. Read more about genetic testing, particularly the difference between clinical tests and research tests.
To locate a healthcare provider, see How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.
Where can I find additional information about Tangier disease?
You may find the following resources about Tangier disease helpful. These materials are written for the general public.
You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for healthcare professionals and researchers.
What other names do people use for Tangier disease?
What if I still have specific questions about Tangier disease?
Where can I find general information about genetic conditions?
The Handbook provides basic information about genetics in clear language.
These links provide additional genetics resources that may be useful.
What glossary definitions help with understanding Tangier disease?
arteries ; atherosclerosis ; autosomal ; autosomal recessive ; cardiovascular ; cell ; cholesterol ; deficiency ; diabetes ; enlarged spleen ; familial ; gene ; HDL ; hereditary ; hypertriglyceridemia ; inherited ; lipoprotein ; neuropathy ; phospholipids ; protein ; recessive ; splenomegaly ; tissue ; toxic
You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.
See also Understanding Medical Terminology.
References (10 links)
The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.