Metachromatic leukodystrophy (MLD) is a genetic disorder that affects nerves, muscles, other organs, and behavior. It slowly gets worse over time.
MLD is usually caused by the lack of an important enzyme called arylsulfatase A. Because this enzyme is missing, chemicals called sulfatides build up in and damage the nervous system, kidneys, gallbladder, and other organs. In particular, the chemicals damage the protective sheaths that surround nerve cells.
The disease is passed down through families (inherited). You must get a copy of the defective gene from both your parents to have the disease. Parents can each have the defective gene, but not have MLD. A person with one defective gene is called a "carrier."
Children who inherit only one defective gene from one parent will be a carrier, but usually will not develop MLD. When two carriers have a child, there is a 25% chance that the child will get both genes and have MLD.
MLD occurs in about 1 in 40,000 people. There are three forms of the disease. They are based on when the symptoms begin:
Tests that may be done include:
There is no cure for MLD. Care focuses on treating the symptoms and preserving the patient's quality of life with physical and occupational therapy.
Research is studying techniques to replace the missing enzyme (arylsulfatase A).
For additional information and resources, see:
MLD is a severe disease that gets worse over time. Eventually people lose all muscle and mental function. Life span varies depending on what age the condition started, but the disease course usually runs 3 - 20 or more years.
People with this disorder are expected to have a shorter-than-normal lifespan. The earlier the age at diagnosis, the more quickly the disease progresses.
Genetic counseling is recommended if you have a family history of this disorder.
MLD; Arylsulfatase A deficiency; Leukodystrophy - metachromatic
McGovern MM, Desnick RJ. Defects in Metabolism of Lipids. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbookof Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 80.
Updated by: Chad Haldeman-Englert, MD, FACMG, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Section on Medical Genetics, Winston-Salem, NC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, and Stephanie Slon.
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