Leukodystrophy is a break down of a component of the nervous system called the myelin, which is a significant part of what makes the white matter of the brain. Myelin protects the part of the nerve that sends signals throughout the brain. The break down of myelin makes it difficult for the brain to send these signals. Leukodystrophy is a rare disease.
Types of leukodystrophies include:
- Metachromatic leukodystrophy
- Krabbé disease
- Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease
- Canavan disease
- Childhood ataxia with central nervous system hypomyelination (CACH), which is also called vanishing white matter disease
- Alexander disease
- Refsum disease
- Cerebrotendinous xanthomatosis
Most leukodystrophies begin in infancy or childhood. However, there are several types that may not begin until adolescence or early adulthood.
Leukodystrophy is caused by a genetic defect. This defect impairs the growth or development of the myelin. Each type of leukodystrophy is the result of a specific genetic defect. Most leukodystrophies are passed from parent to child, though some may develop in people without a family history.
Symptoms of leukodystrophy may include:
- Gradual decline of the health of an infant or child who previously appeared well
- Loss or increase in muscle tone
- Change in movements
- Abnormal eye movements
- Change in walking pattern
- Loss of speech
- Loss of the ability to eat
- Loss of vision
- Loss of hearing
- Change in behavior
- Slowdown of mental and physical development
Some leukodystrophies may involve other organ systems which can cause:
- Heart disease
- Enlargement of the liver and spleen
- Skeletal abnormalities, such as short stature, coarse facial appearance, and joint stiffness
- Respiratory disease leading to breathing problems
- Bronzing of the skin
- Cholesterol nodules to form on tendons
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Images of the brain may be taken. This can be done with:
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
- Urine analysis
- Nerve or brain biopsy
- Blood tests, which includes genetic testing
- Lumbar puncture
Tests may be done on your nerves. This can be done with:
- Nerve conduction testing
- Evoked potential test
In rare cases, a brain biopsy may be done.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:
Management of Symptoms
Depending on the type of leukodystrophy and the symptoms, treatment may include:
- Medications to reduce symptoms and relieve pain
- Physical, occupational, and/or speech therapy
- Nutritional programs
- Recreational programs
Bone Marrow Transplant
In a few of the leukodystrophies, bone marrow transplant may help. It may be able to slow or stop the progression of the disease.
Enzyme Replacement Therapy
Replacement of the abnormal or absent enzyme is being explored for a few of the leukodystrophies. Research is being done in this area.
There is no known way to prevent leukodystrophy. For parents who have had a child with leukodystrophy, genetic counseling may be helpful. This counseling will help to determine the chances of having another child with the disease.
- Reviewer: Rimas Lukas, MD
- Review Date: 02/2016 -
- Update Date: 02/12/2016 -