Lesch–Nyhan syndrome (LNS) is a rare inherited disorder caused by a deficiency of the enzyme hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase (HGPRT). This deficiency occurs due to mutations in the HPRT1 gene located on the X chromosome. LNS affects about 1 in 380,000 live births. The disorder was first recognized and clinically characterized by American medical student Michael Lesch and his mentor, pediatrician William Nyhan, at Johns Hopkins.
The HGPRT deficiency causes a build-up of uric acid in all body fluids. The combination of increased synthesis and decreased utilization of purines leads to high levels of uric acid production. This results in both high levels of uric acid in the blood and urine, associated with severe gout and kidney problems. Neurological signs include poor muscle control and moderate intellectual disability. These complications usually appear in the first year of life. Beginning in the second year of life, a particularly striking feature of LNS is self-mutilating behaviors, characterized by lip and finger biting. Neurological symptoms include facial grimacing, involuntary writhing, and repetitive movements of the arms and legs similar to those seen in Huntington's disease. The cause of the neurological abnormalities remains unknown. Because a lack of HGPRT causes the body to poorly utilize vitamin B12, some males may develop megaloblastic anemia.
LNS is inherited in an X-linked recessive manner; the gene mutation is usually carried by the mother and passed on to her son, although one-third of all cases arise de novo (from new mutations) and do not have a family history. LNS is present at birth in baby boys. Most, but not all, persons with this deficiency have severe mental and physical problems throughout life. There are a few rare cases in the world of affected females.
The symptoms caused by the buildup of uric acid (gout and kidney symptoms) respond well to treatment with medications such as allopurinol that reduce the levels of uric acid in the blood. The mental deficits and self-mutilating behavior do not respond well to treatment. There is no cure, but many affected people live to adulthood. Several new experimental treatments may alleviate symptoms.