Metachromatic leukodystrophy is an inherited disorder characterized by the accumulation of fats called sulfatides in cells. This accumulation especially affects cells in the nervous system that produce myelin, the substance that insulates and protects nerves. Nerve cells covered by myelin make up a tissue called white matter. Sulfatide accumulation in myelin-producing cells causes progressive destruction of white matter (leukodystrophy) throughout the nervous system.
Causes: Metachromatic leukodystrophy (MLD) is usually caused by the lack of an important enzyme called arylsulfatase A. Because this enzyme is missing, chemicals called sulfatides build up in and damage the nervous system, kidneys, gallbladder, and other organs. In particular, the chemicals damage the protective sheaths that surround nerve cells. The disease is passed down through families (inherited). You must get a copy of the defective gene from both your parents to have the disease.
Diagnosis: Tests that may be done include: Blood or skin culture to look for low arylsulfatase A activity, Blood test to look for low arylsulfatase A enzyme levels, CT scan, DNA testing for the ARSA gene, MRI, Nerve biopsy, Nerve signalling studies, Urinalysis, Urine chemistry.
Treatment: There is no cure for MLD. Care focuses on treating the symptoms and preserving the patient's quality of life with physical and occupational therapy.
In Germany time from first symptoms (at a median age of 1.5 years in late-infantile and 6 years in juvenile MLD) to diagnosis took one year in late-infantile and two years in juvenile patients on average. Gait disturbances and abnormal movement patterns were first signs in all patients with late-infantile and in most with juvenile MLD. Onset in the latter was additionally characterized by problems in concentration, behaviour and fine motor function (p=0.0011, p<0.0001, and p=0.0012).