The present study reports two Italian brothers affected by severe Salla disease (sialic acid storage disease), a slowly progressive autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder prevalent in the Finnish population. Mutations of the SLC17A5 gene, which encodes a protein called sialin, are the primary cause of both Salla disease and infantile sialic acid storage disease (ISSD), a clinically distinct severe disorder. All Finnish patients with Salla disease show a R39C mutation. Both patients showed moderate intellectual disability, spastic ataxic syndrome, hypomyelination and cerebellar atrophy on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and lysosomal storage, all typical of Salla disease. Mutation analysis of the SLC17A5 gene in the younger brother revealed no R39C mutation, but a 15-bp deletion in exon 6 on one of the alleles. This mutation is the same described in French-Canadian patients with ISSD. Salla disease must be suspected in patients with unexplained psychomotor retardation associated with ataxia and/or pyramidal symptoms, and MRI findings consistent with cerebral hypomyelination, irrespective of the patient's ethnic origin. A mutation screening based on R39C change does not exclude Salla disease outside Finland. Conversely, mutations found in ISSD can be expected, even in patients showing the Salla phenotype (e.g. symptoms at the milder end of the spectrum).