The leukodystrophies are rare diseases that affect the cells of the brain. Specifically, the diseases affect the myelin sheath, the material that surrounds and protects nerve cells. Damage to this sheath slows down or blocks messages between the brain and the rest of the body. This leads to problems with
Most of the leukodystrophies are genetic. They usually appear during infancy or childhood. They can be hard to detect early because children seem healthy at first. However, symptoms gradually get worse over time.
There are no cures for any of the leukodystrophies. Medicines, speech therapy and physical therapy might help with symptoms. Researchers are testing bone marrow transplantation as a treatment for some of the leukodystrophies.
NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy is a genetic disorder that occurs primarily in males. It mainly affects the nervous system and the adrenal glands, which are small glands located on top of each kidney. In this disorder, the fatty covering (myelin) that insulates nerves in the brain and spinal cord is prone to deterioration (demyelination), which reduces the ability of the nerves to relay information to the brain. In addition, damage to the outer layer of the adrenal glands (adrenal cortex) causes a shortage of certain hormones (adrenocortical insufficiency). Adrenocortical insufficiency may cause weakness, weight loss, skin changes, vomiting, and coma.There are three distinct types of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy: a childhood cerebral form, an adrenomyeloneuropathy type, and a form called Addison disease only.Children with the cerebral form of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy experience learning and behavioral problems that usually begin between the ages of 4 and 10. Over time the symptoms worsen, and these children may have difficulty reading, writing, understanding speech, and comprehending written material. Additional signs and symptoms of the cerebral form include aggressive behavior, vision problems, difficulty swallowing, poor coordination, and impaired adrenal gland function. The rate at which this disorder progresses is variable but can be extremely rapid, often leading to total disability within a few years. The life expectancy of individuals with this type depends on the severity of the signs and symptoms and how quickly the disorder progresses. Individuals with the cerebral form of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy usually survive only a few years after symptoms begin but may survive longer with intensive medical support.Signs and symptoms of the adrenomyeloneuropathy type appear between early adulthood and middle age. Affected individuals develop progressive stiffness and weakness in their legs (paraparesis), experience urinary and genital tract disorders, and often show changes in behavior and thinking ability. Most people with the adrenomyeloneuropathy type also have adrenocortical insufficiency. In some severely affected individuals, damage to the brain and nervous system can lead to early death.People with X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy whose only symptom is adrenocortical insufficiency are said to have the Addison disease only form. In these individuals, adrenocortical insufficiency can begin anytime between childhood and adulthood. However, most affected individuals develop the additional features of the adrenomyeloneuropathy type by the time they reach middle age. The life expectancy of individuals with this form depends on the severity of the signs and symptoms, but typically this is the mildest of the three types.Rarely, individuals with X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy develop multiple features of the disorder in adolescence or early adulthood. In addition to adrenocortical insufficiency, these individuals usually have psychiatric disorders and a loss of intellectual function (dementia). It is unclear whether these individuals have a distinct form of the condition or a variation of one of the previously described types.For reasons that are unclear, different forms of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy can be seen in affected individuals within the same family.