DiGeorge Syndrome


DiGeorge syndrome, also known as 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, is a syndrome caused by the deletion of a small segment of chromosome 22. While the symptoms can be variable, they often include congenital heart problems, specific facial features, frequent infections, developmental delay, learning problems and cleft palate. Associated conditions include kidney problems, hearing loss and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or Graves disease.

DiGeorge syndrome is typically due to the deletion of 30 to 40 genes in the middle of chromosome 22 at a location known as 22q11.2. About 90% of cases occur due to a new mutation during early development, while 10% are inherited from a person’s parents. It is autosomal dominant, meaning that only one affected chromosome is needed for the condition to occur. Diagnosis is suspected based on the symptoms and confirmed by genetic testing.

Although there is no cure, treatment can improve symptoms. This often includes a multidisciplinary approach with efforts to improve the function of the potentially many organ systems involved. Long-term outcomes depend on the symptoms present and the severity of the heart and immune system problems. With treatment, life expectancy may be normal.

DiGeorge syndrome occurs in about 1 in 4,000 people. The syndrome was first described in 1968 by American physician Angelo DiGeorge. In late 1981, the underlying genetics were determined.

Diagnosis of DiGeorge syndrome can be difficult due to the number of potential symptoms and the variation in phenotypes between individuals. It is suspected in patients with one or more signs of the deletion. In these cases a diagnosis of 22q11.2DS is confirmed by observation of a deletion of part of the long arm (q) of chromosome 22, region 1, band 1, sub-band 2. Genetic analysis is normally performed using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), which is able to detect microdeletions that standard karyotyping (e.g. G-banding) miss. Newer methods of analysis include Multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification assay (MLPA) and quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), both of which can detect atypical deletions in 22q11.2 that are not detected by FISH. qPCR analysis is also quicker than FISH, which can have a turn around of 3 to 14 days.

A 2008 study of a new high-definition MLPA probe developed to detect copy number variation at 37 points on chromosome 22q found it to be as reliable as FISH in detecting normal 22q11.2 deletions. It was also able to detect smaller atypical deletions that are easily missed using FISH. These factors, along with the lower expense and easier testing mean that this MLPA probe could replace FISH in clinical testing.

Genetic testing using BACs-on-Beads has been successful in detecting deletions consistent with 22q11.2DS during prenatal testing. Array-comparative genomic hybridization (array-CGH) uses a large number of probes embossed in a chip to screen the entire genome for deletions or duplications. It can be used in post and pre-natal diagnosis of 22q11.2.

Fewer than 5% of individuals with symptoms of DiGeorge syndrome have normal routine cytogenetic studies and negative FISH testing. In these cases, atypical deletions are the cause. Some cases of 22q11.2 deletion syndrome have defects in other chromosomes, notably a deletion in chromosome region 10p14.

No cure is known for DiGeorge syndrome. Certain individual features are treatable using standard treatments. The key is to identify each of the associated features and manage each using the best available treatments.

For example, in children, it is important that the immune problems are identified early, as special precautions are required regarding blood transfusion and immunization with live vaccines. Thymus transplantation can be used to address absence of the thymus in the rare, so-called “complete” DiGeorge syndrome. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. Cardiac surgery is often required for congenital heart abnormalities. Hypoparathyroidism causing hypocalcaemia often requires lifelong vitamin D and calcium supplements. Specialty clinics that provide multi-system care allow for individuals with DiGeorge syndrome to be evaluated for all of their health needs and allow for careful monitoring of the patients. An example of this type of system is the 22q Deletion Clinic at SickKids Hospital in Toronto, Canada, which provides children with 22q11 deletion syndrome ongoing support, medical care and information from a team of health care workers.

DiGeorge syndrome is estimated to affect between one in 2000 and one in 4000 live births. This estimate is based on major birth defects and may be an underestimate, because some individuals with the deletion have few symptoms and may not have been formally diagnosed. It is one of the most common causes of intellectual disability due to a genetic deletion syndrome.

The number of people affected has been expected to rise because of multiple reasons: (1) surgical and medical advances, an increasing number of people are surviving heart defects associated with the syndrome. These individuals are in turn having children. The chances of a person with DiGeorge syndrome having an affected child is 50% for each pregnancy; (2) Parents who have affected children, but who were unaware of their own genetic conditions, are now being diagnosed as genetic testing become available; (3) Molecular genetics techniques such as FISH (fluorescence in situ hybridization) have limitations and have not been able to detect all 22q11.2 deletions. Newer technologies have been able to detect these atypical deletions.

The signs and symptoms of DiGeorge syndrome are so varied that different groupings of its features were once regarded as separate conditions. These original classifications included velocardiofacial syndrome, Shprintzen syndrome, DiGeorge sequence/syndrome, Sedlackova syndrome, and conotruncal anomaly face syndrome. All are now understood to be presentations of a single syndrome.

ICD-10 2015 version mentions DiGeorge syndrome using two codes: D82.1 (Di George syndrome) and Q93.81 (Velo-cardio-facial syndrome). The ICD-11 Beta Draft discusses the syndrome under “LD50.P1 CATCH 22 phenotype”. However, since this syndrome is caused by the deletion of a small piece of chromosome 22, some recommend that the name “22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11.2DS)” be used. Some experts support changing the name of both DiGeorge and velocardiofacial syndromes to CATCH-22. The International 22q11.2 Foundation, through its “Same Name Campaign”, advocates for the name 22q11.2 deletion syndrome.

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