X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD) is a progressive demyelinating disorder whose neurological signs and symptoms can manifest in childhood as cerebral ALD or in adulthood in the form of a progressive myelopathy (AMN). The consistent metabolic abnormality in all forms of X-ALD is an inherited defect in the peroxisomal β-oxidation of very long chain (VLC) fatty acids (>C(22:0)) which may in turn lead to a neuroinflammatory process associated with demyelination of the cerebral white matter. The current treatment for X- ALD with Lorenzo's oil aims to lower the excessive quantities of VLC fatty acids that accumulate in the patients' plasma and tissues, but does not directly address the inflammatory process in X-ALD. We have previously demonstrated that lovastatin and other 3-HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors are capable of normalizing VLC fatty acid levels in primary skin fibroblasts derived from X-ALD patients. Lovastatin can block the induction of inducible nitric oxide synthase and proinflammatory cytokines in astrocytes, microglia, and macrophages in vitro. In a preliminary report, we demonstrated that lovastatin therapy can normalize VLC fatty acids in the plasma of patients with X-ALD. Here we report our clinical and biochemical observations on 12 patients with X-ALD who were treated with lovastatin for up to 12 months. Our results show that the high plasma levels of hexacosanoic acid (C(26:0)) showed a decline from pretreatment values within 1 to 3 months of starting therapy with 40 mg of lovastatin per day and stabilized at various levels during a period of observation up to 12 months. The percentage decline from pretreatment values varied and did not correlate with the type of ALD gene mutation (point mutation versus gene deletion). In 6 patients, in whom red cell membrane fatty acid composition was studied, a mean correction of 50% of the excess C(26:0) was observed after 6 months of therapy suggesting sustained benefit. In a few patients who discontinued lovastatin therapy plasma C(26:0) levels reverted to pretreatment values suggesting a cause and effect relationship between these events. Two patients dropped out of the study claiming no clinical benefit, 1 was withdrawn due to adverse effects, and an adult patient with cerebral involvement died during the study. A 10- year-old boy with severe cerebral involvement showed worsening of his neurological status. All patients with AMN remained neurologically stable or showed modest subjective improvement. All patients who did not have Addison's disease at the time of enrollment maintained normal adrenal function throughout the study. The implications of our findings for developing an effective therapy for X-ALD are discussed. (C) 2000 Academic Press.