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Krabbe Disease: Facts and Information

  • Published: 2009-04-02 (Revised/Updated 2017-06-25) : Disabled World (Disabled World).
  • Synopsis: Krabbe disease is one of a group of genetic disorders called the leukodystrophies.
Krabbe Disease

Krabbe (KRAH-buh) disease is an inherited disorder that destroys the protective coating (myelin) of nerve cells in the brain and throughout the nervous system. Infants with Krabbe disease are normal at birth. Symptoms begin between the ages of 3 and 6 months with irritability, fevers, limb stiffness, seizures, feeding difficulties, vomiting, and slowing of mental and motor development.

Main Document

Quote: "Infantile Krabbe disease is generally fatal before age 2. Prognosis may be significantly better for children who receive umbilical cord blood stem cells prior to disease onset or early bone marrow transplantation."

Krabbe disease is a rare, inherited degenerative disorder of the central and peripheral nervous systems.

Alternate Names: Beta Galactocerebrosidase (GALC) Deficiency, Galactosylceramide Deficiency, Galactosylceramide Lipidosis, Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy (GLD), Krabbe Leukodystrophy, Sphingolipidoses, Krabbe type.

Krabbe disease is one of a group of genetic disorders called the leukodystrophies.

These disorders impair the growth or development of the myelin sheath, the fatty covering that acts as an insulator around nerve fibers, and cause severe degeneration of mental and motor skills. Myelin, which lends it color to the "white matter" of the brain, is a complex substance made up of at least 10 different enzymes. Each of the leukodystrophies affects one (and only one) of these substances.

Krabbe disease is a lysomal storage disease caused by a deficiency of galactocerebrosidase (GALC), an essential enzyme for myelin metabolism.

Infantile form:

This is the most common type and onset is almost always before 6 months of age and even during the first week of life.

Initial symptoms include restlessness, intermittent fever, irritability and progressive stiffness (irritable-hypertonic presentation). Symptoms may develop acutely. Fever without infection is common. Convulsion may be part of the symptoms. There are also increased muscle tone and pyramidal signs. Deep tendon reflexes are often absent or weak due to peripheral neuropathy.

The second phase is characterized by rapid deterioration in motor function, with chronic opisthotonos and myoclonic jerking, accompanied by hyperpyrexia, hypersalivation, and hypersecretion from the lungs. Rapid and severe motor and mental deterioration follows. In all cases, a high CSF protein is found and nerve conduction velocities are considerably reduced.

A final "burnt out" stage occurs eventually. The infant becomes decerebrate and has no contact with the surroundings. The baby usually dies within the first one or two years of life, most commonly due to infection and/or bulbar palsy.

Before birth, a fetus can be screened for Krabbe disease.

Using a needle, the doctor can withdraw amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus, and then the cells in this fluid can be examined in the lab. This requires obtaining fetal cells by chorionic villus sampling or culturing amniotic fluid cells obtained by amniocentesis. After birth, a physical exam of the child, evaluating signs and symptoms and diagnostic testing including: blood, skin (biopsy) samples, lumbar puncture (spinal tap), MRI and CT scans, nerve conduction studies, eye exam, and genetic testing may be done to confirm the diagnosis.

There is no specific, proven treatment for advanced, symptomatic Krabbe disease.

Treatment at this stage is designed primarily to ease symptoms. For example, anticonvulsant medications may be used to manage the seizures associated with this disease. Other drugs may reduce the risk of vomiting. Some research indicates possible benefits associated with the use of bone marrow transplantation or cord blood transfusion as treatments for Krabbe disease. For pre symptomatic infants and older individuals with mild symptoms, hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) with cord blood provides a benefit over symptomatic treatment only.

Infantile Krabbe disease is generally fatal before age 2. Prognosis may be significantly better for children who receive umbilical cord blood stem cells prior to disease onset or early bone marrow transplantation.

Awareness: Leukodystrophies & Krabbe disease Awareness

Navy blue awareness ribbonThe awareness ribbon color for all leukodystrophies, including Krabbe disease, is Navy Blue.

The month of September is Leukodystrophies Awareness Month, and World Leukodystrophies Day is on the Last Saturday in September.

In Pennsylvania House Resolution 484 names January 15th as Krabbe Disease Awareness Day.

Facts: Krabbe Disease

Statistics: 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.

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