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Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Overview :

Collagen is a strong, fibrous protein that lends strength and elasticity to connective tissues such as the skin, tendons, organ walls, cartilage, and blood vessels. Each of these connective tissues requires collagen tailored to meet its specific purposes. The many roles of collagen are reflected in the number of genes dedicated to its production. There are at least 28 genes in humans that encode at least 19 different types of collagen. Mutations in these genes can affect basic construction as well as the fine-tuned processing of the collagen.

EDS was originally described by Dr. Van Meekeren in 1682. Dr. Ehlers and Dr. Danlos further characterized the disease in 1901 and 1908, respectively. Today, according to the Ehlers-Danlos National Foundation, one in 5,000 to one in 10,000 people are affected by some form of EDS.

EDS is a group of genetic disorders that usually affects the skin, ligaments, joints, and blood vessels. Classification of EDS types was revised in 1997. The new classification involves categorizing the different forms of EDS into six major sub-types, including classical, hypermobility, vascular, kyphoscoliosis, arthrochalasia, and dermatosparaxis, and a collection of rare or poorly defined varieties. This new classification is simpler and based more on descriptions of the actual symptoms.

Classical type

Under the old classification system, EDS classical type was divided into two separate types: type I and type II. The major symptoms involved in EDS classical type are the skin and joints. The skin has a smooth, velvety texture and bruises easily. Affected individuals typically have extensive scaring, particularly at the knees, elbows, forehead, and chin. The joints are hyperextensible, giving a tendency towards dislocation of the hip, shoulder, elbow, knee, or clavicle. Due to decreased muscle tone, affected infants may experience a delay in reaching motor milestones. Children may have a tendency to develop hernias or other organ shifts within the abdomen. Sprains and partial or complete joint dilocations are also common. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. EDS classical type is inherited in an autosomal dominant manner.

There are three major clinical diagnostic criteria for EDS classical type. These include skin hyperextensibility, unusually wide scars, and joint hypermobility. At this time there is no definitive test for the diagnosis of classical EDS. Both DNA and biochemical studies have been used to help identify affected individuals. In some cases, a skin biopsy has been found to be useful in confirming a diagnosis. Unfortunately, these tests are not sensitive enough to identify all individuals with classical EDS. If there are multiple affected individuals in a family, it may be possible to perform prenatal diagnosis using a DNA information technique known as a linkage study.

Hypermobility type

Excessively loose joints are the hallmark of this EDS type, formerly known as EDS type III. Both large joints, such as the elbows and knees, and small joints, such as toes and fingers, are affected. Partial and total joint dislocations are common, and particularly involve the jaw, knee, and shoulder. Many individuals experience chronic limb and joint pain, although x rays of these joints appear normal. The skin may also bruise easily. Osteoarthritis is a common occurrence in adults. EDS hypermobility type is inherited in an autosomal dominant manner.

There are two major clinical diagnostic criteria for EDS hypermobility type. These include skin involvement (either hyperextensible skin or smooth and velvety skin) and generalized joint hypermobility. At this time there is no test for this form of EDS.

Vascular type

Formerly called EDS type IV, EDS vascular type is the most severe form. The connective tissue in the intestines, arteries, uterus, and other hollow organs may be unusually weak, leading to organ or blood vessel rupture. Such ruptures are most likely between ages 20 and 40, although they can occur any time, and may be life-threatening.

There is a classic facial appearance associated with EDS vascular type. Affected individuals tend to have large eyes, a thin pinched nose, thin lips, and a slim body. The skin is thin and translucent, with veins dramatically visible, particularly across the chest.

The large joints have normal stability, but small joints in the hands and feet are loose, showing hyperextensibility. The skin bruises easily. Other complications may include collapsed lungs, premature aging of the skin on the hands and feet, and ruptured arteries and veins. After surgery there tends to be poor wound healing, a complication that tends to be frequent and severe. Pregnancy also carries the risk complications. During and after pregnancy there is an increased risk of the uterus rupturing and of arterial bleeding. Due to the severe complications associated with EDS type IV, death usually occurs before the fifth decade. A study of 419 individuals with EDS vascular type, completed in 2000, found that the median survival rate was 48 years, with a range of six to 73 years. EDS vascular type is inherited in an autosomal dominant manner.

There are four major clinical diagnostic criteria for EDS vascular type. These include thin translucent skin, arterial/intestinal/uterine fragility or rupture, extensive bruising, and characteristic facial appearance. EDS vascular type is caused by a change in the gene COL3A1, which codes for one of the collagen chains used to build Collage type III. Laboratory testing is available for this form of EDS. A skin biopsy may be used to demonstrate the structurally abnormal collagen. This type of biochemical test identifies more than 95% of individuals with EDS vascular type. Laboratory testing is recommended for individuals with two or more of the major criteria.

DNA analysis may als be used to identify the change within the COL3A1 gene. This information may be helpful for genetic counseling purposes. Prenatal testing is available for pregnancies in which an affected parent has been identified and their DNA mutation is known or their biochemical defect has been demonstrated.

Kyphoscoliosis type

The major symptoms of kyphoscoliosis type, formerly called EDS type VI, are general joint looseness. At birth, the muscle tone is poor, and motor skill development is subsequently delayed. Also, infants with this type of EDS have an abnormal curvature of the spine (scoliosis). The scoliosis becomes progressively worse with age, with affected individuals usually unable to walk by age 20. The eyes and skin are fragile and easily damaged, and blood vessel involvement is a possibility. The bones may also be affected as demonstrated by a decrease in bone mass. Kyphoscoliosis type is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner.

There are four major clinical diagnostic criteria for EDS kyphoscoliosis type. These include generaly loose joints, low muscle tone at birth, scoliosis at birth (which worsens with age), and a fragility of the eyes, which may give the white area of the eye a blue tint or cause the eye to rupture. This form of EDS is caused by a change in the PLOD gene on chromosome 1, which encodes the enzyme lysyl hydroxylase. A laboratory test is available in which urinary hydroxylysyl pryridinoline is measured. This test, performed on urine is extremely senstive and specific for EDS kyphoscolios type. Laboratory testing is recommended for infants with three or more of the major diagnostic criteria.

Prenatal testing is available if a pregnancy is known to be at risk and an identified affected family member has had positive laboratory testing. An amniocentesis may be performed in which fetal cells are removed from the amniotic fluid and enzyme activity is measured.

Arthrochalasia type

Dislocation of the hip joint typically accompanies arthrochalasia type EDS, formerly called EDS type VIIB. Other joints are also unusually loose, leading to recurrent partial and total dislocations. The skin has a high degree of stretchability and bruises easily. Individuals with this type of EDS may also experience mildly diminished bone mass, scoliosis, and poor muscle tone. Arthrochalasia type is inherited in an autosomal dominant manner.

There are two major clinical diagnostic criteria for EDS arthrochalasia type. These include sever generalized joing hypermobility and bilateral hip dislocation present at birth. This form of EDS is caused by a change in either of two components of Collage type I, called proa1(I) type A and proa2(I) type B. A skin biopsy may be preformed to demonstrate an abnormality in either components. Direct DNA testing is also available.

Dermatosparaxis type

Individuals with this type of EDS, once called type VIIC, have extremely fragile skin that bruises easily but does not scar excessively. The skin is soft and may sag, leading to an aged appearance even in young adults. Individuals may also experience hernias. Dermatosparaxis type is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner.

There are two major clinical diagnostic criteria for EDS dematosparaxis type. These include severe skin fragility and sagging or aged appearing skin. This form of EDS is caused by a change in the enzyme called procollagen I N-terminal peptidase. A skin biopsy may be preformed for a definitive diagnosis of Dermatosparaxis type.

Other types

There are several other forms of EDS that have not been as clearly defined as the aforementioned types. Forms of EDS within this category may present with soft, mildly stretchable skin, shortened bones, chronic diarrhea, joint hypermobility and dislocation, bladder rupture, or poor wound healing. Inheritance patterns within this group include X-linked recessive, autosomal dominant, and autosomal recessive.

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