This review discusses a selection of congenital disorders of glycosylation that show peculiar features, such as an unusual presentation, different phenotypes, a novel biochemical/genetic mechanism, a relatively high frequency or a relatively efficient treatment.
Isolated methylmalonic acidurias represent a heterogeneous genetic group of inborn errors of propionate metabolism with the common biochemical hallmark of elevated methylmalonic acid present in tissues and body fluids. It was first described in the 1960s and over the years better understanding of the disease and its presentation, earlier diagnosis, and most importantly advances in treatment have resulted in extended survival of patients. With that an expanding spectrum of complications is emerging which requires attention and regular monitoring to facilitate early intervention and reduce disease burden.
Over the last two decades, gene therapy has been successfully translated to many rare diseases. The number of clinical trials is rapidly expanding and some gene therapy products have now received market authorisation in the western world. Inherited metabolic diseases (IMD) are orphan diseases frequently associated with a severe debilitating phenotype with limited therapeutic perspective. Gene therapy is progressively becoming a disease-changing therapeutic option for these patients. In this review, we aim to summarise the development of this emerging field detailing the main gene therapy strategies, routes of administration, viral and non-viral vectors and gene editing tools. We discuss the respective advantages and pitfalls of these gene therapy strategies and review their application in IMD, providing examples of clinical trials with lentiviral or adeno-associated viral gene therapy vectors in rare diseases. The rapid development of the field and implementation of gene therapy as a realistic therapeutic option for various IMD in a short term also require a good knowledge and understanding of these technologies from physicians to counsel the patients at best.
Inherited metabolic disorders (IMDs ) are a rare and diverse group of metabolic conditions mainly caused by enzyme deficiencies, and in some of these, hormonal dysfunction is a relatively common complication. It may present in childhood and subsequently hormonal replacement is required throughout their life. Endocrinopathies can be a presenting symptom of an IMD in adulthood, which should be suspected when associated with multiorgan involvement (neurological, musculoskeletal or liver, etc.). A single IMD can affect any gland with hypogonadism, adrenal insufficiency, diabetes mellitus and thyroid dysfunction being the most common. In some cases, however, it is diagnosed later in their adult life as a secondary complication of previous therapies such as chemotherapy used during Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (HSCT) in childhood.
The mechanisms of endocrine dysfunction in this group of conditions are not well understood. Regardless, patients require ongoing clinical support from the endocrine, metabolic, bone metabolism and fertility specialists throughout their life.
Hormonal profiling should be part of the routine blood test panel to diagnose asymptomatic endocrine disorders with delayed manifestations. It is also worth considering screening for common hormonal dysfunction when patients exhibit atypical non-IMD related symptoms. In some adult-onset cases presenting with multiple endocrinopathies, the diagnosis of an IMD should be suspected.
Given that new therapies are in development (e.g. gene therapies, stem cell therapies, pharmacological chaperone and substrate reduction therapies), clinicians should be aware of their potential long-term effect on the endocrine system.
Pompe disease is an autosomal recessive lysosomal glycogen storage disorder caused by the deficiency of acid alpha-glucosidase and subsequent progressive glycogen accumulation due to mutations in the GAA gene. Pompe disease manifests with a broad spectrum of disease severity, ranging from severe infantile-onset diseases such as hypotonia and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy to late-onset diseases such as myopathy and respiratory compromise. The diagnosis requires demonstration of deficiency of the lysosomal acid alpha-glucosidase enzyme, which can be assayed in dried blood spot or liquid blood samples, together with supportive biomarker tests, and confirmed with molecular genetic analysis. Targeted screening of at-risk populations and universal newborn screening can result in earlier diagnosis and enable earlier treatment initiation, which result in the potential improvement of clinical outcomes. Disease-modifying treatment with enzyme replacement therapy has partially altered the natural history of the disease, but more efficacious novel therapies are under evaluation including second-generation enzyme replacement therapies, molecular chaperones and gene therapy approaches. Long-term survivors with Pompe disease are now manifesting novel aspects of the disease including widespread vascular disease, smooth muscle and central nervous system involvement, and these emerging phenotypes will require additional specific therapeutic approaches.
Diagnosis, treatment, and care of inborn errors of metabolism require well organized interdisciplinary teams. Holistic approaches comprise the system of all elements and relations between elements necessary for an optimal function of the system.
Following the rule “structure follows function” based on scientific, academic, and clinical experience the elements of the system providing diagnosis, treatment, and care for inborn errors of metabolism are defined and described.
A holistic approach to inborn errors of metabolism comprising 10 elements is suggested, established, and controlled by an interdisciplinary metabolic team organized as a disease, and a case management program based on evidence-based guidelines is suggested. Quality assurance and quality control will not only improve the treatment of the individual but also the health system.
The holistic approach is a joint project of the team of health care professionals and the person with a condition, allowing them to see the patient’s individual medical, behavioral, social, legal, and economic context. For practical, technical, and economic reasons this will only be possible in centers caring for a critical number of individuals.
Primary hyperammonaemia is a term to describe an elevation of ammonia in blood or plasma due to a defect within the urea cycle, which is the pathway responsible for ammonia detoxification and arginine biosynthesis. Urea cycle disorders (UCDs) are rare diseases caused by genetic defects affecting any of the six enzymes or two transporters that are directly involved in the urea cycle function.
The clinical situation is variable and largely depends on the time of onset. Newborns who are often affected by hyper-ammonaemic encephalopathy carry a potential risk of severe brain damage, which may lead to death. Outside the neonatal period, symptoms are very unspecific but most often neurological (with wide variability), psychiatric and/or gastrointestinal. Early identification of patients is extremely important to start effective treatment modalities immediately. The acute management includes detoxification of ammonia, which often requires extracorporeal means such as haemodialysis, and the use of intravenous drugs that work as nitrogen scavengers. Long-term management of patients with UCDs consists of a low-protein diet, which needs to be balanced and supplemented to avoid deficiencies of essential amino acids, trace elements or vitamins and the use of nitrogen scavengers.
The reader will find here a brief overview describing the most relevant aspects of the clinical management of UCDs in an attempt to raise awareness for this important group of rare diseases.
The knowledge of causes and pathophysiology of mitochondrial diseases has increased exponentially in the last four decades. Recently, due to the decreased costs of new sequencing technologies (exome and whole genome sequencing), these technologies were applied more and more in clinical routine. The traditional diagnostic approach (‘biopsy first’) of evaluating the patient and his body fluids and the analysis of enzymes of the oxidative phosphorylation system in skeletal muscle with subsequent Sanger sequencing of single candidate genes (‘from function to gene’) were replaced by next generation sequencing techniques with a diagnostic yield of >40%. In this ‘genetics first’ approach, the detection of new candidate genes necessitates often functional evaluations (‘from gene to function’) leading to reverse phenotyping of affected individuals. The new genetic era has offered a clear new challenge for the responsibility of the diagnostic centres: the interplay of clinicians, geneticists and functional biochemists is a prerequisite for a validated diagnosis. It becomes evident that expanded diagnostics builds an interface to research. Only competence centres with high numbers of patients, clinical and diagnostic experience and exchange of knowledge with other comparable units can fulfil all those requirements.