Reassessment of the Proteus syndrome literature: application of diagnostic criteria to published cases

Am J Med Genet A. 2004 Oct 1;130A(2):111-22. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.a.30327.


The medical care of patients affected by rare disorders depends heavily on experiences garnered from prior cases, including those patients evaluated by the treating physician and those published in the medical literature. The utility of published cases is wholly dependent upon accurate diagnosis of those patients. In our experience, the rate of misdiagnosis in Proteus syndrome (PS) is high. Diagnostic criteria have been published, but these criteria have not been applied consistently and were published after many case reports appeared in the literature. We reviewed 205 cases of individuals reported to have PS in the literature and three of us independently applied the diagnostic criteria to these case reports. Our initial diagnostic congruence was 97.1% (199/205); the discrepancies in six cases were easily resolved. Only 97 (47.3%) of reported cases met the diagnostic criteria for PS; 80 cases (39%) clearly did not meet the criteria; and although 28 cases (13.7%) had features suggestive of PS, there were insufficient clinical data to make a diagnosis. Reported cases that met the PS criteria had a higher incidence of premature death, and other complications (scoliosis, megaspondyly, central nervous system abnormalities, tumors, otolaryngologic complications, pulmonary cystic malformations, dental and ophthalmogic complications) compared to those in the non-Proteus group. The cases that met the criteria were more often male, which has implications for hypotheses regarding the etiology and pathophysiology of PS. We also studied the attributes that led authors to conclude the reported patients had PS when we concluded they did not. We found that two of the diagnostic criteria (disproportionate overgrowth and connective tissue nevi) were often misinterpreted. In PS, the abnormal growth is asymmetric, distorting, relentless, and occurred at a faster rate compared to the rest of the body. Furthermore, PS was associated with irregular and disorganized bone, including hyperostoses, hyperproliferation of osteoid with variable calcification, calcified connective tissue, and elongation of long bones with abnormal thinning. In contrast, non-Proteus cases displayed overgrowth that was asymmetric but grew at a rate similar to the growth found in unaffected areas of the body. Also, the overgrowth in non-Proteus cases was associated with normal or enlarged bones together with ballooning of the overlying soft tissues. Taken together, these data show that (1) PS diagnostic criteria sort individuals with asymmetric overgrowth into distinct groups; (2) individuals with PS were more likely to have serious complications; (3) PS affects more males than females; and 4) the published diagnostic criteria are useful for clinical care and research. This article contains supplementary material, which may be viewed at the American Journal of Medical Genetics website at

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kidney Diseases / complications
  • Male
  • Proteus Syndrome / complications
  • Proteus Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Urologic Diseases / complications