Lesch-Nyhan syndrome is a disorder that is passed down through families (inherited). It affects how the body builds and breaks down purines. Purines are a normal part of human tissue that help make up the body's genetic blueprint. They are also found in many different foods.
Lesch-Nyhan syndrome is passed down as an X-linked, or sex-linked trait. It occurs mostly in boys. People with this syndrome are missing or severely lacking an enzyme called hypoxanthine guanine phosphoribosyltransferase 1 (HPRT). The body needs this substance to recycle purines. Without it, abnormally high levels of uric acid build up in the body.
Too much uric acid can cause gout-like swelling in some of the joints. In some cases, kidney and bladder stones develop.
People with Lesch-Nyhan have delayed motor development followed by abnormal movements and increased reflexes. A striking feature of Lesch-Nyhan syndrome is self-destructive behavior, including chewing off fingertips and lips. It is unknown how the disease causes these problems.
No specific treatment exists for Lesch-Nyhan syndrome. Gout medication (allopurinol) can lower uric acid levels. However, treatment does not improve the neurological outcome (for example, having increased reflexes and spasms).
Some symptoms may be relieved with these medicines:
The outcome is likely to be poor. People with this syndrome usually need help walking and sitting, and most need a wheelchair.
Severe, progressive disability is likely.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if signs of this illness appear in your child or if there is a history of Lesch-Nyhan syndrome in your family.
Genetic counseling for prospective parents with a family history of Lesch-Nyhan syndrome is recommended. Testing can be done to see if a woman is a carrier of this syndrome.
Harris JC. Disorders of purine and pyrimidine metabolism. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 83.
Update Date 5/4/2014
Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.