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Reviewed August 2012
What is Krabbe disease?
Krabbe disease (also called globoid cell leukodystrophy) is a degenerative disorder that affects the nervous system. It is caused by the shortage (deficiency) of an enzyme called galactosylceramidase. This enzyme deficiency impairs the growth and maintenance of myelin, the protective covering around certain nerve cells that ensures the rapid transmission of nerve impulses. Krabbe disease is part of a group of disorders known as leukodystrophies, which result from the loss of myelin (demyelination). This disorder is also characterized by the abnormal presence of globoid cells, which are globe-shaped cells that usually have more than one nucleus.
The symptoms of Krabbe disease usually begin before the age of 1 year (the infantile form). Initial signs and symptoms typically include irritability, muscle weakness, feeding difficulties, episodes of fever without any sign of infection, stiff posture, and slowed mental and physical development. As the disease progresses, muscles continue to weaken, affecting the infant's ability to move, chew, swallow, and breathe. Affected infants also experience vision loss and seizures.
Less commonly, onset of Krabbe disease can occur in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood (late-onset forms). Visual problems and walking difficulties are the most common initial symptoms in this form of the disorder, however, signs and symptoms vary considerably among affected individuals.
How common is Krabbe disease?
In the United States, Krabbe disease affects about 1 in 100,000 individuals. A higher incidence (6 cases per 1,000 people) has been reported in a few isolated communities in Israel.
What genes are related to Krabbe disease?
Mutations in the GALC gene cause Krabbe disease. These mutations cause a deficiency of the enzyme galactosylceramidase. This deficiency leads to a progressive loss of myelin that covers many nerves. Without myelin, nerves in the brain and other parts of the body cannot function properly, leading to the signs and symptoms of Krabbe disease.
Read more about the GALC gene.
How do people inherit Krabbe disease?
This condition is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern, which means both copies of the gene in each cell have mutations. The parents of an individual with an autosomal recessive condition each carry one copy of the mutated gene, but they typically do not show signs and symptoms of the condition.
Where can I find information about diagnosis or management of Krabbe disease?
These resources address the diagnosis or management of Krabbe disease and may include treatment providers.
General information about the diagnosis and management of genetic conditions is available in the Handbook. Read more about genetic testing, particularly the difference between clinical tests and research tests.
To locate a healthcare provider, see How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.
Where can I find additional information about Krabbe disease?
You may find the following resources about Krabbe disease helpful. These materials are written for the general public.
You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for healthcare professionals and researchers.
What other names do people use for Krabbe disease?
What if I still have specific questions about Krabbe disease?
Where can I find general information about genetic conditions?
The Handbook provides basic information about genetics in clear language.
These links provide additional genetics resources that may be useful.
What glossary definitions help with understanding Krabbe disease?
autosomal ; autosomal recessive ; cell ; deficiency ; degenerative ; degenerative disorder ; demyelination ; enzyme ; fever ; galactosylsphingosine ; gene ; incidence ; infection ; inherited ; leukodystrophy ; nervous system ; newborn screening ; nucleus ; psychosine ; recessive ; sclerosis ; screening ; sign
You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.
See also Understanding Medical Terminology.
References (6 links)
The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.