The genetic and phenotypic spectra of adult genetic leukoencephalopathies in a cohort of 309 patients

Brain. 2023 Jun 1;146(6):2364-2376. doi: 10.1093/brain/awac426.


Genetic leukoencephalopathies (gLEs) are a highly heterogeneous group of rare genetic disorders. The spectrum of gLEs varies among patients of different ages. Distinct from the relatively more abundant studies of gLEs in children, only a few studies that explore the spectrum of adult gLEs have been published, and it should be noted that the majority of these excluded certain gLEs. Thus, to date, no large study has been designed and conducted to characterize the genetic and phenotypic spectra of gLEs in adult patients. We recruited a consecutive series of 309 adult patients clinically suspected of gLEs from Beijing Tiantan Hospital between January 2014 and December 2021. Whole-exome sequencing, mitochondrial DNA sequencing and repeat analysis of NOTCH2NLC, FMR1, DMPK and ZNF9 were performed for patients. We describe the genetic and phenotypic spectra of the set of patients with a genetically confirmed diagnosis and summarize their clinical and radiological characteristics. A total of 201 patients (65%) were genetically diagnosed, while 108 patients (35%) remained undiagnosed. The most frequent diseases were leukoencephalopathies related to NOTCH3 (25%), NOTCH2NLC (19%), ABCD1 (9%), CSF1R (7%) and HTRA1 (5%). Based on a previously proposed pathological classification, the gLEs in our cohort were divided into leukovasculopathies (35%), leuko-axonopathies (31%), myelin disorders (21%), microgliopathies (7%) and astrocytopathies (6%). Patients with NOTCH3 mutations accounted for 70% of the leukovasculopathies, followed by HTRA1 (13%) and COL4A1/2 (9%). The leuko-axonopathies contained the richest variety of associated genes, of which NOTCH2NLC comprised 62%. Among myelin disorders, demyelinating leukoencephalopathies (61%)-mainly adrenoleukodystrophy and Krabbe disease-accounted for the majority, while hypomyelinating leukoencephalopathies (2%) were rare. CSF1R was the only mutated gene detected in microgliopathy patients. Leukoencephalopathy with vanishing white matter disease due to mutations in EIF2B2-5 accounted for half of the astrocytopathies. We characterized the genetic and phenotypic spectra of adult gLEs in a large Chinese cohort. The most frequently mutated genes were NOTCH3, NOTCH2NLC, ABCD1, CSF1R and HTRA1.

Keywords: genetic leukoencephalopathy; genetic spectrum; leukodystrophy; pathological classification; white matter lesion.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein
  • High-Temperature Requirement A Serine Peptidase 1 / genetics
  • Humans
  • Leukoencephalopathies* / genetics
  • Leukoencephalopathies* / pathology
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Myelin Sheath / pathology
  • Receptor, Notch3 / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • Receptor, Notch3
  • HtrA1 protein, human
  • High-Temperature Requirement A Serine Peptidase 1
  • FMR1 protein, human
  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein