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NINDS Krabbe Disease Information Page

Synonym(s):  Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy

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What is Krabbe Disease?

Krabbe disease is a rare, inherited metabolic disorder in which harmful amounts of lipids (fatty materials such as oils and waxes) build up in various cells and tissues in the body and destroys brain cells.  Krabbe disease, also known as globoid cell leukodystrophy, is characterized by the presence of globoid cells (cells that have more than one nucleus) that break down  the nerve’s protective myelin coating. Krabbe disease is caused by a deficiency of galactocerebrosidase, an essential enzyme for myelin metabolism.  The disease most often affects infants, with onset before age 6 months, but can occur in adolescence or adulthood.  Symptoms include severe deterioration of mental and motor skills, muscle weakness, hypertonia (inability of a muscle to stretch), myoclonic seizures (sudden, shock-like contractions of the limbs), and spasticity (involuntary and awkward movement). Other symptoms may include irritability, unexplained fever, blindness, difficulty with swallowing, and deafness.  

Is there any treatment?

There is no cure for Krabbe disease. Results of a very small clinical trial of children with infantile Krabbe disease found that children who received umbilical cord blood stem cells from unrelated donors prior to symptom onset developed with little neurological impairment.  Bone marrow transplantation may help some people.  Generally, treatment for the disorder is symptomatic and supportive.  Physical therapy may help maintain or increase muscle tone and circulation.

What is the prognosis?

Krabbe disease in infants is generally fatal before age 2.  Individuals with a later onset form of the disease generally have a milder course of the disease and live significantly longer.

What research is being done?

The mission of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease. The NINDS is a component of the National Institutes of Health, the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world. Hamatopoietic stem cell transplantation -- using stem cells from umbilical cord blood or bone marrow -- has been shown to benefit some individuals when given early in the course of the disease.  Scientists plan to test hematopoietic stem cell transplantation plus gene therapy to see if it dramatically increases life expectancy in a mouse model of the disease.  Also in a mouse mode, NINDS-funded scientists are testing a combined treatment approach that uses a harmless virus to increase protein production, along with blood stem cell transplantation and small-molecule-based drugs, to reduce neuroinflammation, cell death, and nerve cell degeneration seen in Krabbe disease.

NIH Patient Recruitment for Krabbe Disease Clinical Trials


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United Leukodystrophy Foundation
224 North 2nd Street, Suite 2
DeKalb, IL 60115
Tel: 815-748-3211; 800-728-5483
Fax: 815-748-0844

Hunter's Hope Foundation [A Leukodystrophy Resource]
P.O. Box 643
Orchard Park, NY 14127
Tel: 716-667-1200; 877-984-HOPE (4673)
Fax: 716-667-1212

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT 06810
Tel: 203-744-0100; Voice Mail: 800-999-NORD (6673)
Fax: 203-798-2291

Myelin Project
P.O. Box 39
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Tel: 800-869-3546; 310-459-1071
Fax: 310-230-4298

Prepared by:
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892

NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

Last Modified February 22, 2016