Fabry disease is an inherited disorder that results from the buildup of a particular type of fat, called globotriaosylceramide, in the body's cells. Beginning in childhood, this buildup causes signs and symptoms that affect many parts of the body. Characteristic features of Fabry disease include episodes of pain, particularly in the hands and feet (acroparesthesias); clusters of small, dark red spots on the skin called angiokeratomas; a decreased ability to sweat (hypohidrosis); cloudiness or streaks in the front part of the eye (corneal opacity or corneal verticillata); problems with the gastrointestinal system; ringing in the ears (tinnitus); and hearing loss. Fabry disease also involves potentially life-threatening complications such as progressive kidney damage, heart attack, and stroke. Some affected individuals have milder forms of the disorder that appear later in life and affect only the heart or kidneys.
Fabry disease affects an estimated 1 in 40,000 to 60,000 males. This disorder also occurs in females, although the prevalence is unknown. Milder, late-onset forms of the disorder are probably more common than the classic, severe form.
Fabry disease is caused by mutations in the GLA gene. This gene provides instructions for making an enzyme called alpha-galactosidase A. This enzyme is active in lysosomes, which are structures that serve as recycling centers within cells. Alpha-galactosidase A normally breaks down a fatty substance called globotriaosylceramide. Mutations in the GLA gene alter the structure and function of the enzyme, preventing it from breaking down this substance effectively. As a result, globotriaosylceramide builds up in cells throughout the body, particularly cells lining blood vessels in the skin and cells in the kidneys, heart, and nervous system. The progressive accumulation of this substance damages cells, leading to the varied signs and symptoms of Fabry disease.
GLA gene mutations that result in an absence of alpha-galactosidase A activity lead to the classic, severe form of Fabry disease. Mutations that decrease but do not eliminate the enzyme's activity usually cause the milder, late-onset forms of Fabry disease that typically affect only the heart or kidneys.
This condition is inherited in an X-linked pattern. A condition is considered X-linked if the mutated gene that causes the disorder is located on the X chromosome, one of the two sex chromosomes in each cell. In males (who have only one X chromosome), one altered copy of the GLA gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the condition. Because females have two copies of the X chromosome, one altered copy of the gene in each cell usually leads to less severe symptoms in females than in males, or rarely may cause no symptoms at all.
Unlike other X-linked disorders, Fabry disease causes significant medical problems in many females who have one altered copy of the GLA gene. These women may experience many of the classic features of the disorder, including nervous system abnormalities, kidney problems, chronic pain, and fatigue. They also have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. The signs and symptoms of Fabry disease usually begin later in life and are milder in females than in their affected male relatives.
A small percentage of females who carry a mutation in one copy of the GLA gene never develop signs and symptoms of Fabry disease.
Other Names for This Condition
- alpha-galactosidase A deficiency
- Anderson-Fabry disease
- angiokeratoma corporis diffusum
- angiokeratoma diffuse
- ceramide trihexosidase deficiency
- Fabry's disease
- GLA deficiency
- hereditary dystopic lipidosis
Additional Information & Resources
Genetic Testing Information
Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center
Research Studies from ClinicalTrials.gov
Catalog of Genes and Diseases from OMIM
Scientific Articles on PubMed
- Deegan PB, Baehner AF, Barba Romero MA, Hughes DA, Kampmann C, Beck M; European FOS Investigators. Natural history of Fabry disease in females in the Fabry Outcome Survey. J Med Genet. 2006 Apr;43(4):347-52. Epub 2005 Oct 14. Citation on PubMed or Free article on PubMed Central
- Desnick RJ, Brady R, Barranger J, Collins AJ, Germain DP, Goldman M, Grabowski G, Packman S, Wilcox WR. Fabry disease, an under-recognized multisystemic disorder: expert recommendations for diagnosis, management, and enzyme replacement therapy. Ann Intern Med. 2003 Feb 18;138(4):338-46. Review. Citation on PubMed
- Eng CM, Germain DP, Banikazemi M, Warnock DG, Wanner C, Hopkin RJ, Bultas J, Lee P, Sims K, Brodie SE, Pastores GM, Strotmann JM, Wilcox WR. Fabry disease: guidelines for the evaluation and management of multi-organ system involvement. Genet Med. 2006 Sep;8(9):539-48. Review. Citation on PubMed
- Feldt-Rasmussen U, Rasmussen AK, Mersebach H, Rosenberg KM, Hasholt L, Sorensen SA. Fabry disease--a metabolic disorder with a challenge for endocrinologists? Horm Res. 2002;58(6):259-65. Review. Citation on PubMed
- Hauser AC, Lorenz M, Sunder-Plassmann G. The expanding clinical spectrum of Anderson-Fabry disease: a challenge to diagnosis in the novel era of enzyme replacement therapy. J Intern Med. 2004 Jun;255(6):629-36. Review. Citation on PubMed
- Mehta A, Hughes DA. Fabry Disease. 2002 Aug 5 [updated 2017 Jan 5]. In: Adam MP, Ardinger HH, Pagon RA, Wallace SE, Bean LJH, Mirzaa G, Amemiya A, editors. GeneReviews® [Internet]. Seattle (WA): University of Washington, Seattle; 1993-2021. Available from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK1292/ Citation on PubMed
- Spada M, Pagliardini S, Yasuda M, Tukel T, Thiagarajan G, Sakuraba H, Ponzone A, Desnick RJ. High incidence of later-onset fabry disease revealed by newborn screening. Am J Hum Genet. 2006 Jul;79(1):31-40. Epub 2006 Apr 28. Citation on PubMed or Free article on PubMed Central
- Wang RY, Lelis A, Mirocha J, Wilcox WR. Heterozygous Fabry women are not just carriers, but have a significant burden of disease and impaired quality of life. Genet Med. 2007 Jan;9(1):34-45. Citation on PubMed