We report a new disorder with diverse neurological problems resulting from abnormal brainstem function. Consistent features of this disorder, which we propose should be called the Atabascan brainstem dysgenesis syndrome, include horizontal gaze palsy, sensorineural deafness, central hypoventilation, and developmental delay. Other features seen in some patients include swallowing dysfunction, vocal cord paralysis, facial paresis, seizures, and cardiac outflow tract anomalies. All affected children described are of Athabascan Indian heritage, with eight children from the Navajo tribe and two patients who are of Apache background. The disorder can be distinguished from the Moebius syndrome by the pattern of central nervous system findings, especially the sensorineural deafness, horizontal gaze palsy, and central hypoventilation. Recognition of children with some features of Athabascan brainstem dysgenesis syndrome should prompt investigation for other related abnormalities. Published 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Defects in the prenatal development of the brainstem can result in cranial nerve deficiencies. As the development of tooth germ is dependent on n. trigeminus, which originates from the brainstem, the hypothesis underlying this study was that anomalies of the brainstem would lead to an increased prevalence of tooth agenesis. Twenty-three patients (13 F and 10 M, age range 6-37 years) were studied, all with myclomeningocele and brainstem anomalies (Chiari II). They were examined retrospectively from the data in journals and dental radiographs and compared to available data on the prevalence of tooth agenesis in the Swedish population. Our hypothesis was rejected, since there was insignificant difference in the frequency of agenesis in our material (8.7%) compared with that of the Swedish population (7.4%).
Four apparently unique disorders are known among the Southwestern Athabasan Amerindians, i.e., the Navajo and Apache; they are Athabaskan severe combined immunodeficiency, Navajo neuropathy, Navajo poikiloderma, and Athabaskan brainstem dysgenesis. This study reviews background information on Athabaskan groups and clinical descriptions of these recessive disorders.
The major clinical findings of these four disorders are reviewed. In addition, the findings of epidemiological surveys are included where available.
Although the importance of genetic bottlenecks in increasing the frequency of rare, sometimes unique, autosomal recessive disorders is known for a number of populations, similar phenomena among Native Americans seem to be less well known.
As many more Native Americans move off the Reservation, the awareness of susceptibility to particular genetic diseases needs to be more widely disseminated.