Tay-Sachs disease is a deadly disease of the nervous system passed down through families.
Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
Tay-Sachs disease occurs when the body lacks hexosaminidase A, a protein that helps break down a chemical found in nerve tissue called gangliosides. Without this protein, gangliosides, particularly ganglioside GM2, build up in cells, especially nerve cells in the brain.
Tay-Sachs disease is caused by a defective gene on chromosome 15. When both parents carry the defective Tay-Sachs gene, a child has a 25% chance of developing the disease. The child must receive two copies of the defective gene — one from each parent — in order to become sick. If only one parent passes the defective gene to the child, the child is called a carrier. He or she won’t be sick, but will have the potential to pass the disease to his or her own children.
Anyone can be a carrier of Tay-Sachs, but the disease is most common among the Ashkenazi Jewish population. About 1 in every 27 members of the Ashkenazi Jewish population carries the Tay-Sachs gene.
Tay-Sachs has been classified into infantile, juvenile, and adult forms, depending on the symptoms and when they first appear. Most people with Tay-Sachs have the infantile form. In this form, the nerve damage usually begins while the baby is still in the womb. Symptoms usually appear when the child is 3 to 6 months old. The disease tends to get worse very quickly, and the child usually dies by age 4 or 5.
Late-onset Tay-Sachs disease, which affects adults, is very rare.
Review Date : 10/21/2008
Reviewed By : Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Departments of Anatomy and Neurological Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc..