Recent Advancements in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Leukodystrophies

Semin Pediatr Neurol. 2021 Apr:37:100876. doi: 10.1016/j.spen.2021.100876. Epub 2021 Feb 10.


Leukodystrophies and genetic leukoencephalopathies comprise a growing group of inherited white matter disorders. Diagnostic rates have improved with increased utilization of next generation sequencing. As treatment options continue to advance for leukodystrophies, so will candidacy for inclusion in the United States' newborn Recommended Universal Screening Panel as was achieved for X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy. Stem cell therapies have become standard of care for selected leukodystrophies. However, transplantation-related risks remain high and outcomes are not fully satisfactory. Transduction of autologous hematopoietic stem cells with lentiviral vectors, referred to as ex vivo gene therapy, circumvents some, but not all, of the risks of traditional transplantation and has recently been demonstrated to be safe and efficective in clinical studies of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy and metachromatic leukodystrophy. Gene therapy, through direct infusion of adeno-associated virus vectors, has emerged as a safer alternative for many monogenetic pediatric neurological disorders. Numerous preclinical studies have shown safety and efficacy of adeno-associated virus gene therapy in leukodystrophies allowing expanded access treatment for Canavan disease prior to initiation of a clinical trial. For inherited white matter disorders resulting from overexpression of a protein, such as Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, emerging RNA therapies have shown success in preclinical studies and promise for rapid translation to the clinic. Lastly, small molecule and protein therapies remain a long-term treatment option for a number of leukodystrophies, including intrathecal enzyme replacement therapy for metachromatic leukodystrophy. Herein we review recent advances in diagnosis and treatment of inherited white matter disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Demyelinating Diseases*
  • Genetic Therapy
  • Humans
  • Leukodystrophy, Metachromatic* / diagnosis
  • Leukodystrophy, Metachromatic* / genetics
  • Leukodystrophy, Metachromatic* / therapy
  • Leukoencephalopathies* / therapy
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases*