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Ataxia Telangiectasia

What is Ataxia Telangiectasia?

Ataxia-telangiectasia is a rare, childhood neurological disorder that causes degeneration in the part of the brain that controls motor movements and speech. The first signs of the disease are unsteady walking and slurred speech, usually occurring during the first five years of life. Telangiectasias (tiny, red "spider" veins), which appear in the corners of the eyes or on the surface of the ears and cheeks, are characteristic of the disease, but are not always present and generally do not appear in the first years of life. About 35 percent of those with A-T develop cancer, most frequently acute lymphocytic leukemia or lymphoma. The most unusual symptom is an acute sensitivity to ionizing radiation, such as X-rays or gamma rays. Many individuals with A-T have a weakened immune system, making them susceptible to recurrent respiratory infections. Other features of the disease may include mild diabetes mellitus, premature graying of the hair, difficulty swallowing, and delayed physical and sexual development. Children with A-T usually have normal or above normal intelligence.

Is there any treatment?

There is no cure for A-T and, currently, no way to slow the progression of the disease. Treatment is symptomatic and supportive. Physical and occupational therapy help to maintain flexibility. Speech therapy is important, teaching children to control air flow to the vocal cords. Gamma-globulin injections may be useful if immunoglobulin levels are sufficiently reduced to weaken the immune system. High-dose vitamin regimens and antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid also may also be used.

What is the prognosis?

Average lifespan has been improving for years, for unknown reasons, and varies with the severity of the underlying mutations, ATM (ataxia-telangiectasia mutated) protein levels, and residual ATM kinase activity. Some individuals with later onset of disease and slower progression survive into their 50s.

What research is being done?

NINDS-supported researchers discovered the gene responsible for A-T, known as ATM (ataxia-telangiectasia mutated) in 1995. This gene makes a protein that activates many (probably more than 700) other proteins that control cell cycle, DNA repair, and cell death. Without it, cells are unable to activate the cellular checkpoints that protect against the damage of ionizing radiation and other agents that can harm DNA. In addition to supporting basic research on A-T, NINDS also funds research aimed at A-T drug development, including development of animal models, gene and stem-cell based therapies, and high-throughput drug screens. The NINDS also leads a trans-NIH A-T Working Group whose members include NINDS, NHLBI, NIEHS, NCI, NEI, NIGMS, NHGRI, NIA, NIAID, NICHD, and ORD.

Organizations

Ataxia Telangiectasia (A-T) Children's Project

5300 W. Hillsboro Blvd., Suite 105
Coconut Creek, FL 33073
Phone: 954.481.6611
Toll-free: 800.5.HELP.A.T (543.5728)
Fax: 954.725.1153
Email: Info@atcp.org
Website: www.atcp.org

National Ataxia Foundation (NAF)

2600 Fernbrook Lane North, Suite 119
Minneapolis, MN 55447-4752
Phone: 763.553.0020
Fax: 763.553.0167
Email: naf@ataxia.org
Website: www.ataxia.org

A-T Ease Foundation, Inc.

217 Thompson Street, Suite 404
New York, NY 10012
Phone: 212.529.0622
Fax: 212.505.8031
Email: info@ateasefoundation.org
Website: www.ateasefoundation.org

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)

55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT 06810
Phone: 203.744.0100
Voice Mail: 800.999.NORD (6673)
Fax: 203.798.2291
Email: orphan@rarediseases.org
Website: www.rarediseases.org

National Cancer Institute (NCI)

National Institutes of Health, DHHS
6116 Executive Boulevard, Ste. 3036A, MSC 8322
Bethesda, MD 20892-8322
Toll-free: 800.4.CANCER (422.6237)
TTY: 800.332.8615
Email: cancergovstaff@mail.nih.gov
Website: www.cancer.gov

Source: National Institutes of Health; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 11/25/2012...#6021