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NINDS Tay-Sachs Disease Information Page


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What is Tay-Sachs Disease?

Tay-Sachs disease is a fatal genetic lipid storage disorder in which harmful quantities of a fatty substance called ganglioside GM2 build up in tissues and nerve cells in the brain. The condition is caused by insufficient activity of an enzyme called beta-hexosaminidase A that catalyzes the biodegradation of acidic fatty materials known as gangliosides. Gangliosides are made and biodegraded rapidly in early life as the brain develops.

Infants with Tay-Sachs disease appear to develop normally for the first few months of life. Then, as nerve cells become distended with fatty material, a relentless deterioration of mental and physical abilities occurs. The child becomes blind, deaf, and unable to swallow. Muscles begin to atrophy and paralysis sets in. Other neurological symptoms include dementia, seizures, and an increased startle reflex to noise. A much rarer form of the disorder occurs in patients in their twenties and early thirties and is characterized by an unsteady gait and progressive neurological deterioration. Persons with Tay-Sachs also have "cherry-red" spots in their eyes. The incidence of Tay-Sachs is particularly high among people of Eastern European and Askhenazi Jewish descent. Patients and carriers of Tay-Sachs disease can be identified by a simple blood test that measures beta-hexosaminidase A activity. Both parents must carry the mutated gene in order to have an affected child. In these instances, there is a 25 percent chance with each pregnancy that the child will be affected with Tay-Sachs disease. Prenatal diagnosis is available if desired.

Is there any treatment?

Presently there is no treatment for Tay-Sachs disease. Anticonvulsant medicine may initially control seizures. Other supportive treatment includes proper nutrition and hydration and techniques to keep the airway open. Children may eventually need a feeding tube.

What is the prognosis?

Even with the best of care, children with Tay-Sachs disease usually die by age 4, from recurring infection.

What research is being done?

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), conducts research about Tay-Sachs disease in laboratories at the NIH and also supports additional research through grants to major medical institutions across the country.

NIH Patient Recruitment for Tay-Sachs Disease Clinical Trials

Organizations

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National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association
2001 Beacon Street
Suite 204
Boston, MA   02135
info@ntsad.org
http://www.ntsad.org
Tel: 800-90-NTSAD (906-8723)
Fax: 617-277-0134

Genetic Alliance
4301 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Suite 404
Washington, DC   20008-2369
info@geneticalliance.org
http://www.geneticalliance.org
Tel: 202-966-5557 800 336-GENE (4363)
Fax: 202-966-8553

March of Dimes
1275 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains, NY   10605
askus@marchofdimes.com
http://www.marchofdimes.com
Tel: 914-997-4488 888-MODIMES (663-4637)
Fax: 914-428-8203

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT   06810
orphan@rarediseases.org
http://www.rarediseases.org
Tel: 203-744-0100 Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
Fax: 203-798-2291



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 updated October 6, 2011