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X-linked sideroblastic anemia and ataxia


X-linked sideroblastic anemia and ataxia is a rare condition characterized by a blood disorder called sideroblastic anemia and movement problems known as ataxia. This condition occurs only in males.

Sideroblastic anemia results when developing red blood cells called erythroblasts do not make enough hemoglobin, which is the protein that carries oxygen in the blood. People with X-linked sideroblastic anemia and ataxia have mature red blood cells that are smaller than normal (microcytic) and appear pale (hypochromic) because of the shortage of hemoglobin. This disorder also leads to an abnormal accumulation of iron in red blood cells. The iron-loaded erythroblasts, which are present in bone marrow, are called ring sideroblasts. These abnormal cells give the condition its name. Unlike other forms of sideroblastic anemia, X-linked sideroblastic anemia and ataxia does not cause a potentially dangerous buildup of iron in the body. The anemia is typically mild and usually does not cause any symptoms.

X-linked sideroblastic anemia and ataxia causes problems with balance and coordination that appear early in life. The ataxia primarily affects the trunk, making it difficult to sit, stand, and walk unassisted. In addition to ataxia, people with this condition often have trouble coordinating movements that involve judging distance or scale (dysmetria) and find it difficult to make rapid, alternating movements (dysdiadochokinesis). Mild speech difficulties (dysarthria), tremor, and abnormal eye movements have also been reported in some affected individuals.


X-linked sideroblastic anemia and ataxia is a rare disorder; only a few affected families have been reported.


Mutations in the ABCB7 gene cause X-linked sideroblastic anemia and ataxia. The ABCB7 gene provides instructions for making a protein that is critical for heme production. Heme is a component of the hemoglobin protein, which is vital for supplying oxygen to the entire body. The ABCB7 protein also plays a role in the formation of certain proteins containing clusters of iron and sulfur atoms. Overall, researchers believe that the ABCB7 protein helps maintain an appropriate balance of iron (iron homeostasis) in developing red blood cells.

ABCB7 mutations slightly alter the structure of the ABCB7 protein, disrupting its usual role in heme production and iron homeostasis. Anemia results when heme cannot be produced normally, and therefore not enough hemoglobin is made. It is unclear how changes in the ABCB7 gene lead to ataxia and other problems with movement.


This condition is inherited in an X-linked recessive pattern. The gene associated with this condition is located on the X chromosome, which is one of the two sex chromosomes. In males (who have only one X chromosome), one altered copy of the gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the condition. In females (who have two X chromosomes), a mutation would have to occur in both copies of the gene to cause the disorder. Because it is unlikely that females will have two altered copies of this gene, males are affected by X-linked recessive disorders much more frequently than females. A characteristic of X-linked inheritance is that fathers cannot pass X-linked traits to their sons.

In X-linked recessive inheritance, a female with one altered copy of the gene in each cell is called a carrier. Carriers of an ABCB7 mutation can pass on the mutated gene but do not develop ataxia or other health problems associated with X-linked sideroblastic anemia and ataxia. However, carriers may have abnormally small, pale red blood cells and related changes that can be detected with a blood test.

Other Names for This Condition

  • XLSA/A

Additional Information & Resources

Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center

Patient Support and Advocacy Resources

Scientific Articles on PubMed


  • Bekri S, D'Hooghe M, Vermeersch P. X-Linked Sideroblastic Anemia and Ataxia - RETIRED CHAPTER, FOR HISTORICAL REFERENCE ONLY. 2006 Mar 1 [updated 2014 Apr 3]. In: Adam MP, Feldman J, Mirzaa GM, Pagon RA, Wallace SE, Bean LJH, Gripp KW, Amemiya A, editors. GeneReviews(R) [Internet]. Seattle (WA): University of Washington, Seattle; 1993-2024. Available from Citation on PubMed
  • Bottomley SS. Congenital sideroblastic anemias. Curr Hematol Rep. 2006 Mar;5(1):41-9. Citation on PubMed
  • Camaschella C. Recent advances in the understanding of inherited sideroblastic anaemia. Br J Haematol. 2008 Oct;143(1):27-38. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2141.2008.07290.x. Epub 2008 Jul 14. Citation on PubMed
  • Fleming MD. The genetics of inherited sideroblastic anemias. Semin Hematol. 2002 Oct;39(4):270-81. doi: 10.1053/shem.2002.35637. Citation on PubMed
  • Hellier KD, Hatchwell E, Duncombe AS, Kew J, Hammans SR. X-linked sideroblastic anaemia with ataxia: another mitochondrial disease? J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2001 Jan;70(1):65-9. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.70.1.65. Citation on PubMed or Free article on PubMed Central
  • Pagon RA, Bird TD, Detter JC, Pierce I. Hereditary sideroblastic anaemia and ataxia: an X linked recessive disorder. J Med Genet. 1985 Aug;22(4):267-73. doi: 10.1136/jmg.22.4.267. Citation on PubMed or Free article on PubMed Central

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