Mucopolysacccharidoses: From understanding to treatment, a century of discoveries

Genet Mol Biol. 2012 Dec;35(4 (suppl)):924-31. doi: 10.1590/s1415-47572012000600006. Epub 2012 Dec 18.


After the first description of a patient recognized as a MPS case was made in 1917, several similar cases were described and identified. Observations reported in the middle of the twentieth century concerning the presence of acid mucopolysaccharides (later called glycosaminoglycans, or GAGs) in tissues and especially in urine of patients were instrumental in providing an identity for these diseases, which became referred as "mucopolysaccharidoses" (MPS). In the late 1960's it was demonstrated that MPS were caused by defects in the breakdown of GAGs, and the specific enzyme deficiencies for the 11 types and subtypes of MPS were identified thereafter. Genes involved in the MPS were subsequently identified, and a large number of disease-causing mutations were identified in each one. Although individually rare, MPS are relatively frequent as a group, with an overall incidence estimated as 1:22,000. The increased excretion of urinary GAGs observed in the vast majority of MPS patients provides a simple screening method, the diagnosis usually being confirmed by the identification of the specific enzyme deficiency. Molecular analysis also plays a role, being helpful for phenotype prediction, prenatal diagnosis and especially for the identification of carriers. As the diseases are rare and diagnosis requires sophisticated methods, the establishment of reference laboratories for MPS identification is recommended. The successful experience of the MPS Brazil Network in providing access to information and diagnosis may be considered as an option for developing countries. The development of therapeutic strategies for MPS, including bone marrow/hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (BMT/HSCT) and enzyme replacement therapy (ERT), changed the natural history of many MPS types. However, some challenges still remain, including the prevention of cognitive decline which occurs in some MPS. Newer approaches, such as intratechal ERT, substrate reduction therapy, read-through, gene therapy and encapsulated modified cells may provide a better outcome for these diseases in the near future. As early diagnosis and early treatment seems to improve treatment outcomes, and as newborn screening is now technically feasible, pilot programs (including one in progress in an area with high-incidence of MPS VI in northeastern Brazil) should provide information about its potential impact in reducing the morbidity associated with MPS diseases.

Keywords: enzyme replacement therapy; lysosomal diseases; mucopoloysaccharidoses; newborn screening; prenatal diagnosis.