Synonym: Louis-Bar's syndrome
Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) is a rare autosomal recessive disorder characterised by:
- Progressive neurodegeneration.
- High risk of malignancy.
- Hypersensitivity to ionizing radiation.
- Chromosomal breakage (t(7;14) translocations typically).
There is significant phenotypic heterogeneity, both in clinical presentation (particularly in susceptibility to pulmonary infection, presence and degree of cognitive impairment and predisposition to leukaemia) and rate of progression, reflecting allelic diversity.
Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) is a rare disease:
- The disease is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait with full penetrance. It has been reported throughout the world with clusters in Turkey, Norway, Costa Rica, Iran, Saudi Arabia and among North African Jews and South African Scots.
- It is sometimes associated with high rates of consanguinity.
- A study in the West Midlands found prevalence of A-T in those under the age of 50 years to be 1 in 514,000 and birth frequency to be about 1 in 300,000.
- This study and others have found a lower rate of A-T in siblings than would be expected on the basis of strict autosomal recessive inheritance (1 in 7, rather than 1 in 4), suggesting that, in some instances, A-T may develop as a new dominant mutation.
Carriers (heterozygotes) of A-T locus mutations, however, form about 1.4-2% of the USA's population and have a significantly reduced life expectancy compared with non-carriers (on average, dying 7-8 years earlier) with increased risk of death from cancer and ischaemic heart disease. Female heterozygotes have a particular risk of breast cancer. Other studies have questioned these findings and although they also have confirmed a moderate risk of breast cancer in A-T heterozygotes did not find large mutation-specific differences in overall risk.
The molecular pathology of ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) has been well described in recent times:
- The classical form of A-T results from the presence of two A-T mutated (ATM) genes on chromosome 11 leading to total loss of the ATM protein (a protein kinase). ATM protein normally recognises DNA damage, and activates the DNA repair machinery and the cell cycle checkpoints to repair and minimise the risk of genetic damage.
- Understanding ATM's function through the effect of its loss in A-T has provided broader insights into cancer predisposition and some aspects of neurodegeneration.
- Milder forms of A-T with later-onset or slower-progressing neurological degeneration seem to reflect some retained ATM protein kinase activity due to the impact of different mutations.
- Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) usually presents by the age of 2 years with a progressive cerebellar ataxia.
- Other symptoms which may be present include:
- Lack of facial expression.
- Tendency to drool.
- Slow slurred speech.
- Recurrent infections, particularly sinuses and respiratory - due to decreased immunoglobulin A (IgA).
- Telangiectasia develop from about the age of 3 years and may not be present until the age of 10 years, but will be present in all cases. The telangiectasia may be present anywhere on the body - most usually involving the conjunctivae, pinnae, face, sternum and flexures.
- Other signs include:
There is a need to differentiate from other autosomal recessive ataxias: Friedreich's ataxia (most common in European countries) and much rarer conditions such as ataxia with vitamin E deficiency, abetalipoproteinaemia, Refsum's syndrome, spastic ataxia, infantile-onset spinocerebellar ataxia and ataxia with oculomotor apraxia.
Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) is usually distinguished by an earlier age of onset, the presence of telangiectasia and the later development of dystonia and chorea and by specific investigations.
- Serum alpha-fetoprotein level (raised in 90%).
- Genetic testing for ATM genes and absence of ATM protein in nuclear extracts.
- In vitro radiosensitivity testing (colony survival assay).
Increased cancer risk
- On autopsy, almost a half of individuals have a malignancy, with 1 in 20 developing more than one malignancy.
- Lymphoreticular malignancies (lymphomas and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)) dominate in the first two decades followed by solid tumours thereafter.
- Patients with ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) and cancer are particularly sensitive to therapeutic levels of ionising radiation.
- A-T is associated with a high prevalence of laboratory immunological abnormalities - most commonly IgA, IgG and IgE deficiencies and lymphopenia with reduced B-lymphocytes, CD4 and CD8 T cells.
- Recurrent upper and lower respiratory tract infections are common. Severe systemic bacterial or viral and opportunistic infections are uncommon in A-T. The immune defect does not appear progressive.
Currently there is no cure and there is no treatment for slowing the progression of the ataxia. Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) is a multisystem disorder requiring multiple therapeutic interventions to slow or halt the neurodegeneration, to prevent or treat the tumours and to correct the associated immunodeficiency. Despite an increased molecular understanding of the disease, we have no effective answer to these challenges. In the future, embryonic stem-cell transfer, use of antioxidants and targeted gene therapy may offer some hope.
Pragmatic treatment of the condition consists of:
- Neurological symptoms are difficult to treat. Basal ganglia dysfunction can be attempted with L-DOPA derivatives, dopamine antagonists and anticholinergics. Loss of balance, and speech and co-ordination problems may be improved by the use of amantadine, fluoxetine and buspirone. Tremors can be treated with gabapentin, clonazepam and propranolol.
- Prompt supportive treatment of infections and, in some cases, use of prophylactic antibiotics. Regular injection of immunoglobulins has been used in some centres. Fetal thymus implants have not been shown to be beneficial.
- Screening for swallow-related problems and aspiration. Consider the use of thickeners and enteral feeding.
- Some advocate regular screening for malignancies with FBC and serum tumour markers.
- Multidisciplinary team involvement - input of physio, speech and occupational therapists is particularly important.
- High-dose vitamin regimes, folic acid and alpha lipoic acid have all been advocated due to their claimed anti-cancer properties. Multivitamins do not correct the ataxia of A-T however.
- Avoid X-rays wherever possible, unless treatment is dependent on them and an alternative (such as MRI or ultrasound) is not possible.
- A-T is an incurable and unremitting disease.
- Most A-T children are wheelchair dependent by their teens although milder variants do exist.
- Communication becomes progressively difficult as handwriting, speech and eye movement control deteriorates.
- Median survival 19-25 years (wide range) with death due to cancer and respiratory failure.
Pre-natal testing is available for families considered at risk, but is not carried out routinely. The ATM gene is too large to allow practical mutational analysis for clinical screening.
Further reading & references
- Ataxia-Telangiectasia, Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM)
- Marshall C; Life through the eyes of a disabled person. Arch Dis Child. 2004 Sep;89(9):887.
- Lavin MF, Gueven N, Bottle S, et al; Current and potential therapeutic strategies for the treatment of ataxia-telangiectasia. Br Med Bull. 2007;81-82:129-47. Epub 2007 Jun 23.
- Busiguina S, Fernandez AM, Barrios V, et al; Neurodegeneration is associated to changes in serum insulin-like growth factors.; Neurobiol Dis. 2000 Dec;7(6 Pt B):657-65.
- Rezaei N, Pourpak Z, Aghamohammadi A, et al; Consanguinity in primary immunodeficiency disorders; the report from Iranian primary immunodeficiency registry.; Am J Reprod Immunol. 2006 Aug;56(2):145-51.
- Woods CG, Bundey SE, Taylor AM; Unusual features in the inheritance of ataxia telangiectasia.; Hum Genet. 1990 May;84(6):555-62.
- Su Y, Swift M; Mortality rates among carriers of ataxia-telangiectasia mutant alleles.; Ann Intern Med. 2000 Nov 21;133(10):770-8.
- Mavrou A, Tsangaris GT, Roma E, et al; The ATM gene and ataxia telangiectasia. Anticancer Res. 2008 Jan-Feb;28(1B):401-5.
- Nusbaum R, Vogel KJ, Ready K; Susceptibility to breast cancer: hereditary syndromes and low penetrance genes. Breast Dis. 2006-2007;27:21-50.
- Thompson D, Duedal S, Kirner J, et al; Cancer risks and mortality in heterozygous ATM mutation carriers. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2005 Jun 1;97(11):813-22.
- Lavin MF; Ataxia-telangiectasia: from a rare disorder to a paradigm for cell signalling and cancer. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2008 Oct;9(10):759-69.
- Taylor AM, Byrd PJ; Molecular pathology of ataxia telangiectasia.; J Clin Pathol. 2005 Oct;58(10):1009-15.
- Di Donato S, Gellera C, Mariotti C; The complex clinical and genetic classification of inherited ataxias. II. Autosomal recessive ataxias.; Neurol Sci. 2001 Jun;22(3):219-28.
- Perlman S, Becker-Catania S, Gatti RA; Ataxia-telangiectasia: diagnosis and treatment.; Semin Pediatr Neurol. 2003 Sep;10(3):173-82.
- Jozwiak S et al; Ataxia-Telangiectasia, eMedicine, Jan 2009
- Nowak-Wegrzyn A, Crawford TO, Winkelstein JA, et al; Immunodeficiency and infections in ataxia-telangiectasia.; J Pediatr. 2004 Apr;144(4):505-11.
- Crawford TO, Skolasky RL, Fernandez R, et al; Survival probability in ataxia telangiectasia.; Arch Dis Child. 2006 Jul;91(7):610-1.
|Original Author: Dr Chloe Borton||Current Version: Dr Chloe Borton|
|Last Checked: 19/11/2010||Document ID: 1290 Version: 22||© EMIS|
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