What is Metachromatic Leukodystrophy?

Metachromatic leukodystrophy (MLD) is one of a group of genetic disorders called the leukodystrophies. These diseases impair the growth or development of the myelin sheath, the fatty covering that acts as an insulator around nerve fibers. Myelin, which lends its color to the white matter of the brain, is a complex substance made up of a mixture of fats and proteins. Some leukodystrophies are caused by genetic defects of enzymes that regulate the metabolism of fats needed in myelin synthesis. MLD is cause by a deficiency of the enzyme arylsulfatase A. MLD is one of several lipid storage diseases, which result in the toxic buildup of abnormal fatty materials (lipids), which interfere with the normal fats and proteins in the myelin sheath. There are three forms of MLD: late infantile, juvenile, and adult. Onset of the late infantile form (the most common MLD) is typically between 12 and 20 months following birth. Affected children have difficulty walking after the first year of life. Symptoms include muscle wasting and weakness, muscle rigidity, developmental delays, progressive loss of vision leading to blindness, convulsions, impaired swallowing, paralysis, and dementia. Children may become comatose. Most children with this form of MLD die by age 5. The juvenile form of MLD (between 3-10 years of age) usually begins with impaired school performance, mental deterioration, and dementia and then develop symptoms similar to the infantile form but with slower progression. The adult form commonly begins after age 16 as a psychiatric disorder or progressive dementia. Symptoms include impaired concentration, ataxia, seizures, dementia, and tremor..

Is there any treatment?

There is no cure for MLD. Bone marrow transplantation may delay progression of the disease in some infantile-onset cases. Other treatment is symptomatic and supportive. Considerable progress has been made with regard to gene therapy in an animal model of MLD.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis for MLD is poor. Most children within the infantile form die by age 5. Symptoms of the juvenile form progress with death occurring 10 to 20 years following onset. Those persons affected by the adult form typically die within 6 to 14 years following onset of symptoms.

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 on the lipid storage diseases in laboratories at the NIH and also supports additional research through grants to major medical institutions across the country.

A combination of gene therapy and transplantation of the patient's own bone marrow cells is currently ongoing in Europe and being discussed the the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the United States. A trial of Arylsulfatase A has been completed in late infantile MLD in the United States and results are not yet published.


The Arc of the United States
1825 K Street, NW, Suite 1200
Washington, DC 20006
Phone: 301.565.3842
Toll-free: 800.433.5255
Fax: 301.565.3843 or 5342
Email: Info@thearc.org

Myelin Project
P.O. Box 39
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Phone: 310.459.1071
Toll-free: 800.869.3546
Fax: 310.230.4298
Email: margaret.weis@myelin.org

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT 06810
Phone: 203.744.0100
Voicemail: 800.999.NORD (6673)
Fax: 203.798.2291
Email: orphan@rarediseases.org

National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association
2001 Beacon Street, Suite 204
Boston, MA 02135
Toll-free: 800.90.NTSAD (906.8723)
Fax: 617.277.0134
Email: info@ntsad.org

United Leukodystrophy Foundation
2304 Highland Drive
Sycamore, IL 60178
Phone: 815.895.3211
Toll-free: 800.728.5483
Fax: 815.895.2432
Email: office@ulf.org

MLD Foundation
21345 Miles Drive
West Linn, OR 97068
Toll-free: 800.617.8387
Phone: 503.656.4808
Email: info@MLDFoundation.org

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

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: 10/22/2012...#6067