The neuronal ceroid-lipofuscinoses (Batten disease) collectively constitute one of the most common groups of inherited childhood onset neurodegenerative disorders, and have also been identified in many domestic and laboratory animals. The group of human neuronal ceroid-lipofuscinoses currently comprises 14 genetically distinct disorders, mostly characterised by progressive mental, motor and visual deterioration with onset in childhood or adolescence. Abnormal autofluorescent, electron-dense granules accumulate in the cytoplasm of nerve cells, and this storage process is associated with selective destruction and loss of neurons in the brain and retina. The present paper outlines nearly 200 years of clinical, neuropathological, biochemical and molecular genetic research, gradually leading, since 1995, to the identification of 13 different genes and over 360 mutations that underlie these devastating brain disorders and form the basis of a new classification system. These genes are evidently of vital importance for the normal development and maintenance of cerebral neurons. Elucidation of their functions and interactions in health and disease is a prerequisite for the identification of possible therapeutic targets, but may also further our understanding of the basic mechanisms of neurodegeneration and ageing. An account is also given of the development of international cooperation and free access electronic resources facilitating NCL research. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: The Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinoses or Batten Disease.
Keywords: Ageing; Batten disease; History; Molecular genetic classification; Neurodegeneration; Neuronal ceroid-lipofuscinosis.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.