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|Classification and external resources|
Leukodystrophy refers to a group of disorders characterized by degeneration of the white matter in the brain. The leukodystrophies are caused by imperfect growth or development of the myelin sheath, the fatty covering that acts as an insulator around nerve fibers. Myelin in the CNS is produced by oligodendrocytes. When damage occurs to white matter tissue immune responses can lead to inflamation in the CNS, along with loss of myelin.
The word leukodystrophy comes from the Greek roots leuko, white, dys, lack of, and troph, growth. Thus leukodystrophy describes a set of diseases that affect the growth or maintenance of the white matter.
Specific leukodystrophies include (ICD-10 codes are provided where available):
- (E71.3) adrenoleukodystrophy
- (E71.3) adrenomyeloneuropathy
- (E75.2) metachromatic leukodystrophy
- Hereditary CNS demyelinating disease
- (G60.1) Refsum disease
- cerebrotendineous xanthomatosis
Leukodystrophies are mostly inherited disorders. They may be inherited in a recessive, dominant, or X-linked manner, depending on the type of leukodystrophy. The individual articles on each leukodystrophy will describe the particular pattern of inheritance for that disease. There is also a fact sheet describing the different genetic inheritance patterns available from the United Leukodystrophy Foundation.
There are some leukodystrophies that do not appear to be inherited, but rather arise spontaneously. They are still caused by a mutation in a particular gene, but it means that the mutation was not inherited.
Known aggravators of leukodystrophy symptoms include radiation and certain chemotherapeutic treatments for cancer.
The most common symptom of a leukodystrophy disease is a gradual decline in an infant or child who previously appeared well. Progressive loss may appear in body tone, movements, gait, speech, ability to eat, vision, hearing and behaviour. There is often a slowdown in mental and physical development (though full, lasting cognizance has been observed, most notably in the case of Hunter Kelly, see 'Public Awareness'). Symptoms vary between specific types of leukodystrophy, as well as between individual patients, and may be difficult to recognise in the early stages of the disease.
One source of active (as of 2006) research is The Myelin Project. In addition, many research groups are studying the cellular processes of myelination, which may provide insights into leukodystrophy. Researchers in New York have successfully cured leukodystrophy in mice, using skin cells to repair damaged myelin sheaths. Researchers hypothesize that this treatment may possibly be used in curing human multiple sclerosis. 
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- This article incorporates public domain text from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
- Leukodystrophy at the Open Directory Project
- United Leukodystrophy Foundation
- Leukodystrophy Alliance
- MLD Foundation - metachromatic leukodsytrophy
- UK Documentary Concerning the Clarke Brothers