Leukodystrophy refers to progressive degeneration of the white matter of the brain due to imperfect growth or development of the myelin sheath, the fatty covering that acts as an insulator around nerve fiber. Myelin, which lends its color to the white matter of the brain, is a complex substance made up of at least ten different chemicals. The leukodystrophies are a group of disorders that are caused by genetic defects in how myelin produces or metabolizes these chemicals. Each of the leukodystrophies is the result of a defect in the gene that controls one (and only one) of the chemicals. Specific leukodystrophies include metachromatic leukodystrophy, Krabbé disease, adrenoleukodystrophy, Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, Canavan disease, Childhood Ataxia with Central Nervous System Hypomyelination or CACH (also known as Vanishing White Matter Disease), Alexander disease, Refsum disease, and cerebrotendinous xanthomatosis. The most common symptom of a leukodystrophy disease is a gradual decline in an infant or child who previously appeared well. Progressive loss may appear in body tone, movements, gait, speech, ability to eat, vision, hearing, and behavior. There is often a slowdown in mental and physical development. Symptoms vary according to the specific type of leukodystrophy, and may be difficult to recognize in the early stages of the disease.
Treatment for most of the leukodystrophies is symptomatic and supportive, and may include medications, physical, occupational, and speech therapies; and nutritional, educational, and recreational programs. Bone marrow transplantation is showing promise for a few of the leukodystrophies.
The prognosis for the leukodystrophies varies according to the specific type of leukodystrophy.
The NINDS supports research on genetic disorders, including the leukodystrophies. The goals of this research are to increase scientific understanding of these disorders, and to find ways to prevent, treat, and, ultimately, cure them.
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National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
Federation of voluntary health organizations dedicated to helping people with rare "orphan" diseases and assisting the organizations that serve them. Committed to the identification, treatment, and cure of rare disorders through programs of education, advocacy, research, and service.
55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT 06810
National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association
The mission of the National Tay-Sachs & Allied Diseases Association is to lead the fight to treat and cure Tay-Sachs, Canavan and related genetic diseases and to support affected families and individuals in leading fuller lives.
2001 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02135
United Leukodystrophy Foundation
Nonprofit voluntary health organization dedicated to providing patients and their families with information; assistance in identifying sources of medical care, social services, and genetic counseling; establishing a communication network among families; increasing public awareness, and acting as an information source for health care providers. Promotes supports research into causes, treatments, and prevention of the leukodystrophies.
224 North 2nd Street, Suite 2
DeKalb, IL 60115
Hunter's Hope Foundation
[A Leukodystrophy Resource]
Fosters awareness about Krabbe disease and other leukodystrophies, works to promote early detection through newborn screening, provides information and service linkages to families, and funds research efforts to identify new treatments and therapies, and ultimately, a cure.
P.O. Box 643
Orchard Park, NY 14127
Tel: Orchard Park