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Reviewed December 2007
What is Mowat-Wilson syndrome?
Mowat-Wilson syndrome is a genetic condition that affects many parts of the body. Major signs of this disorder frequently include distinctive facial features, intellectual disability, delayed development, an intestinal disorder called Hirschsprung disease, and other birth defects.
Children with Mowat-Wilson syndrome have a square-shaped face with deep-set, widely spaced eyes. They also have a broad nasal bridge with a rounded nasal tip; a prominent and pointed chin; large, flaring eyebrows; and uplifted earlobes with a dimple in the middle. These facial features become more distinctive with age, and adults with Mowat-Wilson syndrome have an elongated face with heavy eyebrows and a pronounced chin and jaw. Affected people tend to have a smiling, open-mouthed expression, and they typically have friendly and happy personalities.
Mowat-Wilson syndrome is often associated with an unusually small head (microcephaly), structural brain abnormalities, and intellectual disability ranging from moderate to severe. Speech is absent or severely impaired, and affected people may learn to speak only a few words. Many people with this condition can understand others' speech, however, and some use sign language to communicate. If speech develops, it is delayed until mid-childhood or later. Children with Mowat-Wilson syndrome also have delayed development of motor skills such as sitting, standing, and walking.
More than half of people with Mowat-Wilson syndrome are born with an intestinal disorder called Hirschsprung disease that causes severe constipation, intestinal blockage, and enlargement of the colon. Chronic constipation also occurs frequently in people with Mowat-Wilson syndrome who have not been diagnosed with Hirschsprung disease.
Other features of Mowat-Wilson syndrome include short stature, seizures, heart defects, and abnormalities of the urinary tract and genitalia. Less commonly, this condition can also affect the eyes, teeth, hands, and skin coloring (pigmentation). Although many different medical issues have been associated with Mowat-Wilson syndrome, not every individual with this condition has all of these features.
How common is Mowat-Wilson syndrome?
The prevalence of Mowat-Wilson syndrome is unknown. At least 170 people with this condition have been reported.
What genes are related to Mowat-Wilson syndrome?
Mutations in the ZEB2 gene cause Mowat-Wilson syndrome.
The ZEB2 gene provides instructions for making a protein that plays a critical role in the formation of many organs and tissues before birth. This protein is a transcription factor, which means that it attaches (binds) to specific regions of DNA and helps control the activity of particular genes. Researchers believe that the ZEB2 protein is involved in the development of tissues that give rise to the nervous system, digestive tract, facial features, heart, and other organs.
Mowat-Wilson syndrome almost always results from a loss of one working copy of the ZEB2 gene in each cell. In some cases, the entire gene is deleted. In other cases, mutations within the gene lead to the production of an abnormally short, nonfunctional version of the ZEB2 protein. A shortage of this protein disrupts the normal development of many organs and tissues, which causes the varied signs and symptoms of Mowat-Wilson syndrome.
Read more about the ZEB2 gene.
How do people inherit Mowat-Wilson syndrome?
This condition is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means one copy of the altered gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the disorder.
Most cases of this condition result from new (de novo) mutations in the gene that occur during the formation of reproductive cells (eggs or sperm) or in early embryonic development. These cases occur in people with no history of the disorder in their family.
Where can I find information about diagnosis or management of Mowat-Wilson syndrome?
These resources address the diagnosis or management of Mowat-Wilson syndrome 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 Mowat-Wilson syndrome?
You may find the following resources about Mowat-Wilson syndrome 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 Mowat-Wilson syndrome?
What if I still have specific questions about Mowat-Wilson syndrome?
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 Mowat-Wilson syndrome?
agenesis ; autosomal ; autosomal dominant ; cell ; chronic ; colon ; constipation ; corpus callosum ; digestive ; disability ; DNA ; embryonic ; gene ; genitalia ; hypertelorism ; inherited ; mental retardation ; microcephaly ; motor ; nervous system ; neural crest ; pigmentation ; prevalence ; protein ; reproductive cells ; short stature ; sign ; sign language ; sperm ; stature ; syndrome ; transcription ; transcription factor
You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.
See also Understanding Medical Terminology.
References (10 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.