Canavan disease: a monogenic trait with complex genomic interaction

Mol Genet Metab. 2003 Sep-Oct;80(1-2):74-80. doi: 10.1016/j.ymgme.2003.08.015.


Canavan disease (CD) is an inherited leukodystrophy, caused by aspartoacylase (ASPA) deficiency, and accumulation of N-acetylaspartic acid (NAA) in the brain. The gene for ASPA has been cloned and more than 40 mutations have been described, with two founder mutations among Ashkenazi Jewish patients. Screening of Ashkenazi Jews for these two common mutations revealed a high carrier frequency, approximately 1/40, so that programs for carrier testing are currently in practice. The enzyme deficiency in CD interferes with the normal hydrolysis of NAA, which results in disruption of myelin and spongy degeneration of the white matter of the brain. The clinical features of the disease are macrocephaly, head lag, progressive severe mental retardation, and hypotonia in early life, which later changes to spasticity. A knockout mouse for CD has been generated, and used to study the pathophysiological basis for CD. Findings from the knockout mouse indicate that this monogenic trait leads to a series of genomic interaction in the brain. Changes include low levels of glutamate and GABA. Microarray expression analysis showed low level of expression of GABA-A receptor (GABRA6) and glutamate transporter (EAAT4). The gene Spi2, a gene involved in apoptosis and cell death, showed high level of expression. Such complexity of gene interaction results in the phenotype, the proteome, with spongy degeneration of the brain and neurological impairment of the mouse, similar to the human counterpart. Aspartoacylase gene transfer trial in the mouse brain using adenoassociated virus (AAV) as a vector are encouraging showing improved myelination and decrease in spongy degeneration in the area of the injection and also beyond that site.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amidohydrolases / genetics*
  • Amidohydrolases / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Aspartic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Aspartic Acid / metabolism*
  • Brain / abnormalities*
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Canavan Disease / genetics*
  • Canavan Disease / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Genetic Therapy
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Muscle Spasticity / metabolism
  • Myelin Sheath / metabolism
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • Aspartic Acid
  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • N-acetylaspartate
  • Amidohydrolases
  • aspartoacylase