Glutaric aciduria type I (GA1) is a preventable cause of acute brain damage in early childhood, leading to a severe dystonic-dyskinetic disorder that is similar to cerebral palsy and ranges from extreme hypotonia to choreoathetosis to rigidity with spasticity. Degeneration of the putamen and caudate typically occurs between 6 and 18 months of age and is probably linked to changes in metabolic demand caused by normal maturational changes and superimposed catabolic stress. Recognition of this biochemical disorder before the brain has been injured is essential to outcome. Diagnosis depends upon the recognition of relatively non-specific physical findings such as hypotonia, irritability and macrocephaly, and on performance of urine organic acid quantification by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry or selective searches of urine or blood specimens by tandem mass spectrometry for glutarylcarnitine. The diagnosis may also be suggested by characteristic findings on neuroimaging. In selected patients diagnosis can only be reached by enzyme assay. Specific current management by the authors of this paper includes pharmacological doses of L-carnitine, as well as dietary protein restriction. Metabolic decompensation must be treated aggressively to avoid permanent brain damage. Multicentre studies are needed to establish best methods of diagnosis and optimal therapy of this disorder.
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The primary goal of our research will always be to find effective and affordable treatments for patients. Over the years, we have shared our methods and discoveries with the broader scientific community.
In the over 30 years since the Clinic's founding, our staff have published more than 120 peer-reviewed research papers, fueled by close collaboration between our clinical and laboratory teams and effective relationships with academic, scientific, and clinical partners.
Authors: Gibson KM, Bennett MJ, Naylor EW, Morton DH
Isolated 3-methylcrotonyl coenzyme A carboxylase (MCC) deficiency was documented in four adult women from the Amish/Mennonite population of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Metabolic and enzymatic investigations in these individuals were instituted after the detection of abnormal acylcarnitine profiles in blood spots obtained from their newborn children, in whom MCC activity was normal.
Authors: Shaw SH, Carrasquillo MM, Kashuk C, Puffenberger EG, Chakravarti A
Genetic studies of complex hereditary disorders require for their mapping the determination of genotypes at several hundred polymorphic loci in several hundred families. Because only a minority of markers are expected to show linkage and association in family data, a simple screen of genetic markers to identify those showing linkage in pooled DNA samples can greatly facilitate gene identification. All studies involving pooled DNA samples require the comparison of allele frequencies in appropriate family samples and subsamples. We have tested the accuracy of allele frequency estimates, in various DNA samples, by pooling DNA from multiple individuals prior to PCR amplification. We have used the ABI 377 automated DNA sequencer and GENESCAN software for quantifying total amplification using a 58 fluorescently labeled forward PCR primer and relative peak heights to estimate allele frequencies in pooled DNA samples. In these studies, we have genotyped 11 microsatellite markers in two separate DNA pools, and an additional four markers in a third DNA pool, and compared the estimated allele frequencies with those determined by direct genotyping. In addition, we have evaluated whether pooled DNA samples can be used to accurately assess allele frequencies on transmitted and untransmitted chromosomes, in a collection of families for fine-structure gene mapping using allelic association. Our studies show that accurate, quantitative data on allele frequencies, suitable for identifying markers for complex disorders, can be identified from pooled DNA samples. This approach, being independent of the number of samples comprising a pool, promises to drastically reduce the labor and cost of genotyping in the initial identification of disease loci. Additional applications of DNA pooling are discussed. These developments suggest that new statistical methods for analyzing pooled DNA data are required.
Authors: Higgins JJ, Morton DH, Patronas N, Nee LE
We report an autosomal recessive form of ataxia that is not allelic to Friedreich’s disease in six individuals from a large kindred with family origins traced to a common founder of German-Swiss descent. The disorder begins during early childhood with a concentric contraction of the visual fields and proprioceptive loss. Eventually blindness, a severe sensory ataxia, achalasia, scoliosis, and inanition develop by third decade. Inversion recovery MRIs of the spinal cord in affected individuals demonstrate a hyperintense signal in the posterior columns. Finding the gene responsible for this disorder may aid in our understanding of the mechanisms that cause sensory neuronal degeneration.
Authors: Hoon AH Jr, Reinhardt EM, Kelley RI, Breiter SN, Morton DH, Naidu SB, Johnston MV
Experienced clinicians recognize that some children who appear to have static cerebral palsy (CP) actually have underlying genetic-metabolic disorders. We report a series of patients with motor disorders seen in children with extrapyramidal CP in whom brain magnetic resonance imaging abnormalities provided important diagnostic clues in distinguishing genetic-metabolic disorders from other causes. One cause of static extrapyramidal CP, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy at the end of a term gestation, produces a characteristic pattern of hyperintense signal and atrophy in the putamen and thalamus. Other signal abnormalities and atrophy in the putamen, globus pallidus, or caudate can point to genetic-metabolic diseases, including disorders of mitochondrial and organic acid metabolism. Progress in understanding and treating genetic diseases of the developing brain makes it essential to diagnose disorders that masquerade as static CP. Brain magnetic resonance imaging is a useful diagnostic tool in the initial evaluation of children who appear to have CP.
Authors: Morton DH
Authors: Morton DH, Bennett MJ, Seargeant LE, Nichter CA, Kelley RI
We have diagnosed type I glutaric aciduria (GA-I) in 14 children from 7 Old Order Amish families in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. An otherwise rare disorder, GA-I appears to be a common cause of acute encephalopathy and cerebral palsy among the Amish. The natural history of the disease, which was previously unrecognized in this population, is remarkably variable and ranges from acute infantile encephalopathy and sudden death to static extrapyramidal cerebral palsy to normal adult. Ten patients first manifested the disease between 3 and 18 months at the time of an acute infectious illness. Four of these children died in early childhood, also during acute illnesses. However, there has been little progression of the neurological disease after age 5 years in the surviving children and intellect usually has been preserved, even in children with severe spastic paralysis. When well, patients have plasma glutaric acid concentrations ranging from 4.8 to 14.2 mumol/liter (nl 0-5.6 mumol/liter) and urinary glutaric acid concentrations from 12.5 to 196 mg/g creatinine (nl 0.5-8.4 mg/g creatinine). We have found that GA-I can be diagnosed in the Amish by measurement of urinary glutaric acid concentrations using isotope-dilution gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, whereas the diagnosis can easily be missed by routine urine organic acid gas chromatography.
Authors: Morton DH, Kelley RI
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Our clinic serves as a trusted medical home for families working to prevent and treat genetic illness in their children. Serving predominantly Amish and Mennonite families, the sturdy, timber-framed building was "raised" by the hands of those in the Anabaptist community outside of Strasburg, PA. Inside the clinic is filled with an array of high-tech gene sequencing that allows us to deliver state of the art care in a nurturing environment.