|"ragged red fibers" in MELAS syndrome|
|Classification and external resources|
MERRF syndrome (or myoclonic epilepsy with ragged red fibers) is a mitochondrial disease. It is extremely rare, with an estimated prevalence of 1/4,000 in Northern Europe, and has varying degrees of expressivity owing to heteroplasmy. MERRF syndrome affects different parts of the body, particularly the muscles and nervous system. The signs and symptoms of this disorder appear at an early age, generally childhood or adolescence. The causes of MERRF syndrome is difficult to determine, however since its a mitochondrial disorder it can be caused by the mutation of nuclear DNA or mitochondrial DNA. The classification of this disease varies from patient to patient, since many individuals do not fall into one specific disease category.The primary features displayed on a person with MERRF include myoclonus, seizures, cerebellar ataxia, myopathy and ragged ref fibers (RRF) on muscle biopsy, leading to the diseases name. Secondary features include dementia, optic atrophy, bilateral deafness, peripheral neuropathy, spasticity or multiple lipomata. Mitochondrial disorders may present at any age, and this holds truth for MERRFS, since it forms part of them.
An individual displaying MERRFs syndrome will manifest not only a single symptom, but regularly patients display more than one affected body part at a time. It has been observed that patients with MERRF syndrome will primarily display Myoclonus as a first symptom, along with it they can also manifest seizures, cerebellar ataxia and myopathy. Secondary features include dementia, optic atrophy, bilateral deafness, peripheral neuropathy, spasticity or multiple lipomata. Additional symptoms include dementia, optic atrophy, bilateral deafness and peripheral neuropathy, spasticity, lipomatosis, and/or cardiomyopathy with wolff parkinson-white syndrome. Most patients will not exhibit all of these symptoms, however more than one of these symptoms will be present in a patient who has been diagnosed with MERRFS disease. Due to the multi-symptoms presented by the individual, the severity of the syndrome is very difficult to evaluate. Mitochondrial disorders may present at any age, and this holds truth for MERRS, since it forms part of them. Therefore, if a patient is presenting some of these symptoms, the doctor is able to narrow it down to MEERF mitochondrial disorder.
The cause of MERRF disorder is due to the mitochondrial genomes mutation. This means that its a pathogenic variants in mtDNA and is transmitted by maternal inheritance. A four points mutations in the genome can be identified which are associated with MERRF: A8344G, T8356C, G8361A, and G8363A. The point mutation A8344G is mostly associated with MERRF, in a study published by Paul Jose Lorenzoni from the Department of neurology at University of Panama  stated that 80% of the patients with MERRF disease exhibited this point mutation.This point mutation disrupts the mitochondrial gene for tRNA-Lys and so disrupts synthesis of proteins essential for oxidative phosphorylation.The remaining mutations only account for 10% of cases, and the remaining 10% of he patients with MERRF did not have an identifiable mutation in the mitochondrial DNA.
It involves the following characteristics:
- progressive myoclonic epilepsy
- "Ragged Red Fibers" - clumps of diseased mitochondria accumulate in the subsarcolemmal region of the muscle fiber and appear as "Ragged Red Fibers" when muscle is stained with modified Gömöri trichrome stain .
There is currently no cure for MERRF.
The mechanism by which MERRFs syndrome occur is yet not well understood. The human mitochondrial tRNA mutations are associated with a variety of diseases including mitochondrial myopathies. However, it is understood that defects in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) have been associated with these diseases, and studies have been able to assign biochemical defects. One of these defects has to do with the decreased energy available for cell processes. As muscles are stained with Gomori Trichrome, characteristic ragged-red fibers are visible under the microscope. This appearance is due to the accumulation of abnormal mitochondria below the plasma membrane of the muscle fiber. These may extend throughout the muscle fiber as the disease severity increases. The mitochondrial aggregates cause the contour of the muscle fiber to become irregular, causing the "ragged" appearance.
The diagnosis varies from individual to individual, each is evaluated and diagnosed according to their age, clinical phenotype and pressed inheritance pattern. If the Individual has been experiencing myoclonus the doctor will run a series of genetic studies to determine if its a mitochondrial disorder.
The molecular genetic studies are run to identify the reason of for the mutations underlying the mitochondrial dysfunction. This approach will avoid the need for a muscle biopsy or an exhaustive metabolic evaluation. After the sequencing the mitochondrial genomes, four points mutations in the genome can be identified which are associated with MERRF: A8344G, T8356C, G8361A, and G8363A. The point mutation A8344G is mostly associated with MERRF, in a study published by Paul Jose Lorenzoni from the Department of neurology at University of Panama  stated that 80% of the patients with MERRF disease exhibited this point mutation. The remaining mutations only account for 10% of cases, and the remaining 10% of the patients with MERRF did not have an identifiable mutation in the mitochondrial DNA.
If a patient does not exhibit mitochondrial DNA mutations, there are other ways that they can be diagnosed with MERRF. They can go through computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).The classification for the severity of MERRF syndrome is difficult to distinguish since most individuals will exhibit multi-symptoms. For children with complex neurologic or multi-system involvement, as the one described below, is often necessary.
History and Physical Examination of the patient
A detailed family history should be obtained from at least three generations. In particularly a history to determine if there has been any neonatal and childhood deaths: Also a way to determine if any one of the family members exhibit any of the features of the multi-system disease. Specifically if there has been a maternal inheritance, when the disease is transmitted to females only, or if there is a family member who experienced a multi system involvement such as: Brain condition that a family member has been record to have such asseizures, dystonia, ataxia, or stroke like episodes.The eyes with optic atrophy, the skeletal muscle where there has been a history of myalgia, weakness or ptosis. Also in the family history look for neuropathy and dysautonomia, or observe heart conditions such ascardiomyopathy. The patients history might also exhibit a problem in their kidney, such as proximal nephron dysfunction. An endocrine condition, for example diabetes and hypoparathyroidism. The patient might have also had gastrointestinal condition which could have been due to liver disease, episodes of nausea or vomiting. Multiple lipomas in the skin, sideroblastic anemia and pancytopenia in the metabolic system or short stature might all be examples of patients with possible symptoms of MERRF disease.
Treatment and Prognosis
Like many mitochondrial diseases, there is no cure for MERRF, no matter the means for diagnosis of the disease. The treatment is primarily symptomatic. High doses of Coenzyme Q10, B complex vitamins and L-Carnitine are the drugs that patients are treated with in order to account for the altered metabolic processed resulting in the disease. There is very little success with these treatments as therapies in hopes of improving mitochondrial function. The treatment only alleviates symptoms and these do not prevent the disease from progressing. Patients with concomitant disease, such as diabetes, deafness or cardiac disease, are treated in combination to manage symptoms.
The journal of child neurology published a paper in 2012, Buccal swab analysis of mitochondrial enzyme deficiency and DNA defects in a child with suspected myoclonic epilepsy and ragged red fibers (MERRF), discusses possible new methods to test for MERRF and other mitochondrial diseases, through a simple swabbing technique. This is a less invasive techniques which allows for an analysis of buccal mitochondrial DNA, and showed significant amounts of the common 5 kb and 7.4 kb mitochondrial DNA deletions, also detectable in blood. This study suggests that a buccal swab approach can be used to informatively examine mitochondrial dysfunction in children with seizures and may be applicable to screening mitochondrial disease with other clinical presentations.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America published an article in 2007 which investigate the human mitochondrial tRNA (hmt-tRNA) mutations which are associated with mitochondrial myopathies. Since the current understanding of the precise molecular mechanisms of these mutations is limited, there is no efficient method to treat their associated mitochondrial diseases. All pathogenic mutants displayed pleiotropic phenotypes, with the exception of the G34A anticodon mutation, which solely affected aminoacylation.
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