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Advances in biochemistry and molecular genetics have led to the discovery of such a large number of metabolic diseases of the nervous system that it taxes the mind just to remember their names. As the causes and mechanisms of the diseases included in this chapter are increasingly being expressed in terms of molecular genetics, it seems appropriate, by way of introduction, to consider briefly some basic facts pertaining to the genetics of neurologic disease. The reader is referred to the continuously updated database, Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (, to the four-volume text by Scriver and colleagues, which still serves as an excellent source, and to recent general reviews by Feero and colleagues, and on mitochondrial genetics, by Koopman and coauthors.


The brain is more frequently affected by a genetic abnormality than any other organ, probably because of the large number of genes implicated in its development (an estimated one-third of the human genome). Approximately one-third of all inherited diseases are neurologic in some respect; if one adds the inherited diseases affecting the musculature, skeleton, eye, and ear, the number rises to 80 to 90 percent. Approximately 7 percent of diseases in hospitalized children are estimated to be attributable to single-gene defects and 0.4 to 2.5 percent to a chromosomal abnormality. Another 22 to 31 percent have a disease putatively due to polymorphisms, most of which are yet to be specified. Mitochondrial inheritance of mutations is much less frequent but gives rise to several distinctive diseases.


Although only a minority of inherited diseases is identified as an enzymopathy, this group represents the most direct translation of mendelian disorders to primary defects in proteins. These constitute only one-third of the known recessive (autosomal and X-linked) disorders. Most enzymopathies become manifest in infancy and childhood; only a few appear as late as adolescence or adult life. Many damage the nervous system so severely that survival to adult years and reproduction are impossible, and some cause death in utero. As a group, these diseases—along with congenital anomalies (see Chap. 38), birth injuries, epilepsy, disharmonies of development, and learning disabilities (see Chap. 28)—make up the bulk of the clinical problems with which the pediatric neurologist must contend.


The diseases grouped in this chapter, and many in the next, represent four particular categories of genetic abnormality: (1) monogenic disorders determined by a single mutation that follow a mendelian pattern of inheritance. These mutations can be of a single base pair (point mutation), an insertion or deletion of nucleotides, or structural rearrangements of a sequence of DNA, such as translocations or inversions; because the most important of these involve the coding (exonic) portion of DNA, they are likely to disrupt the structure and function of enzymes or cellular structural proteins. Most of the diseases discussed in this chapter are of this variety; (2) a type of monogenic mutation characterized by duplications or deletions of genes ...

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