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Patau Syndrome

Overview :

Children normally inherit 23 chromosomes from each parent, for a total of 46 chromosomes. A typical human being has 46 chromosomes: 22 pairs of non-sex linked chromosomes and one pair of sex-linked chromosomes, that determine that child's sex. Sometimes a child may end up with more than 46 chromosomes because of problems with the father's sperm or the mother's egg; or, because of mutations that occurred after the sperm and the egg fused to form the embryo (conception).

Normally, there are two copies of each of the 23 chromosomes: one from each parent. A condition called trisomy occurs when three, instead of two, copies of a chromosome are present in a developing human embryo. An extra copy of a particular chromosome can come either from the egg or sperm, or because of mutations that occur after conception.

The best-known trisomy-related disorder is Down syndrome (trisomy 21), in which the developing embryo has an extra copy of chromosome 21. Patau syndrome is trisomy 13, in which the developing embryo has three copies of chromosome 13.

An extra copy of chromosome 13 is not the only cause of Patau syndrome. Other changes in chromosome 13, such as mispositioning (translocation), can also result in the characteristics classified as Patau syndrome. In these cases, an error occurs that causes a portion of chromosome 13 to be exchanged for a portion of another chromosome. There is no production of extra chromosomes, but a portion of each affected chromosome is misplaced (translocated) to another chromosome.

Patau syndrome causes serious physical and mental abnormalities including: heart defects; incomplete brain development; such unusual facial features as a sloping forehead, a smaller than average head (microcephaly), small or missing eyes, low-set ears, and cleft palate or hare lip; extra fingers and toes (polydactyly); abnormal genitalia; spinal defects; seizures; gastrointestinal hernias, particularly at the navel (omphalocele); and mental retardation. Due to the severity of these conditions, fewer than 20% of those affected with Patau syndrome survive beyond infancy. Most infants with the syndrome die within the first three months of life; the average life expectancy of the survivors is about 10 years.

Genetic profile

When an extra copy (trisomy) of a chromosome is made, it may either be a total trisomy (in which an extra copy of the entire chromosome is made), or partial trisomy (in which only one part of the chromosome is made an extra time).

In most cases of trisomy, errors in chromosome duplication occur at conception because of problems with the egg or the sperm that are coming together to produce an offspring. In these cases, every cell in the body of the offspring has an extra copy of the affected chromosome. However, errors in chromosome duplication may also occur during the rapid cell division that takes place immediately after conception. In these cases, only some cells of the body have the extra chromosome error. The condition in which only some of the cells in the body have the extra chromosome is called mosaicism.

Seventy-five to 80 percent of the cases of Patau syndrome are caused by a trisomy of chromosome 13. Some of these cases are the result of a total trisomy, while others are the result of a partial trisomy. Partial trisomy generally causes less severe physical symptoms than full trisomy. Ten percent of these cases are of the mosaic type, in which only some of the body's cells have the extra chromosome. The physical symptoms of the mosaic form of Patau syndrome depends on the number and type of cells that carry the trisomy.

Most cases of trisomy are not passed on from one generation to the next. Usually they result from a malfunction in the cell division (mitosis) that occurs after conception. At least 75% of the cases of Patau syndrome are caused by errors in chromosome replication that occur after conception. The remaining 25% are caused by the inheritance of translocations of chromosome 13 with other chromosomes within the parental chromosomes. In these cases, a portion of another chromosome switches places with a portion of chromosome 13. This leads to errors in the genes on both chromosome 13 and the chromosome from which the translocated portion originated.

Patau syndrome occurs in approximately one in 8,000-12,000 live births in the United States. In many cases, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) occurs and the fetus does not survive to term. In other cases, the affected individual is stillborn. As appears to be the case in all trisonomies, the risks of Patau syndrome seem to increase with the mother's age, particularly if she is over 30 when pregnant. Male and female children are equally affected, and the syndrome occurs in all races and ethnic groups. Females with Patau syndrome, however, have a better chance of surviving past infancy than males.

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