Zellweger spectrum disorders (NORD)

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Zellweger spectrum disorders (NORD)

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A 1-year old girl is brought to the pediatrician’s clinic for evaluation of gross motor delay. Her parents are concerned because she has not been able to sit up yet and feels “limp” when they hold her. They report that she has had seizures in the past. Upon physical exam, she has both hypotonia and hepatomegaly. No other family members had similar symptoms during development. Genetic testing is performed, and she is found to have a mutation in the PEX gene. What is the inheritance pattern of the patient’s condition?  


Zellweger spectrum disorders, also called ZSDs, are a group of rare genetic diseases that impair the development of peroxisomes, which are structures found in almost every cell of the body.

Peroxisomes house enzymes that are responsible for a number of biochemical pathways, including the metabolism of fatty acids and the synthesis of lipids essential for nervous system development.

A low level of peroxisomes in the body causes visual, auditory, and neurological deterioration as well as liver and kidney dysfunction.

For this reason, ZSDs are also known as peroxisome biogenesis disorders, or PBDs. ZSDs are named after Dr. Hans Zellweger, who first described the disease in 1964.

ZSDs were originally characterized as individual diseases of varying severity, however it was later determined that all of these diseases are part of the same disease spectrum.

ZSDs affect many parts of the body. In severe cases, symptoms can present shortly after birth, whereas less severe forms may have symptoms that do not appear until late infancy or childhood.

Infants with severe ZSD often, but don’t always have cranial abnormalities such as flattening of the face, high forehead, widely spaced eyes, broad nose bridge, and an abnormally small jaw.

The roof of the mouth may be unusually high and narrow, and the fontanelles may feel abnormally large.

Infants with ZSD may experience deteriorating visual, auditory, and neurological symptoms.

Visual impairments may include cataracts, glaucoma, and nystagmus.

Progressive vision loss may manifest as difficulty following objects with the eyes and eyes pointing in different directions.

Hearing loss may present as a lack of a startle response to loud noises and not turning towards sounds.

Neurological symptoms may include seizures and delays in developmental milestones like sitting, crawling, or walking.

Other symptoms include a lack of muscle tone, called hypotonia, and affected children may appear limp and lethargic.

Infants may have difficulty sucking or swallowing, causing problems in feeding and gaining weight.


Zellweger spectrum disorders, or ZSDs, are rare autosomal recessive disorders caused by mutations in the PEX genes. Symptoms and disease progression vary greatly where severe forms are evident at birth, and mild and intermediate forms may go undetected until childhood. Symptoms often include cranial abnormalities, visual and hearing impairments, developmental delays, hypotonia, seizures, and bleeding problems.

ZSD affects the functioning of peroxisomes, causing buildup of very long-chain fatty acids and degeneration of nerves, affecting multiple organ systems. Diagnosis involves a thorough clinical examination, as well as biochemical and genetic testing. Effective treatment for ZSD requires early diagnosis and involves oral bile acid replacement therapy with cholic acid.


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