Neurofibromatosis type II
|Neurofibromatosis type II|
|Synonyms||multiple inherited schwannomas, meningiomas, and ependymomas (MISME syndrome))|
|Micrograph of a schwannoma, a tumor seen in neurofibromatosis type II. HPS stain.|
Neurofibromatosis type II (also known as MISME syndrome - multiple inherited schwannomas, meningiomas, and ependymomas) is a genetic condition which may be inherited or may arise spontaneously. The main manifestation of the condition is the development of bilateral benign brain tumors in the nerve sheath of the cranial nerve VIII, which is the "auditory-vestibular nerve" that transmits sensory information from the inner ear to the brain. Besides, other benign brain and spinal tumors occur. Symptoms depend on the presence, localisation and growth of the tumor(s). Many people with this condition also experience visual problems. NF II is caused by mutations of the "Merlin" gene, which seems to influence the form and movement of cells. The principal treatments consist of neurosurgical removal of the tumors and surgical treatment of the eye lesions. Historically the underlying disorder has not had any therapy due to the cell function caused by the genetic mutation. However, new drug research and some clinical trials have shown some promise in having beneficial effects. Collaborative research to find better treatments is ongoing, such as the work of the Synodos NF-2 Consortium of scientists.
NF II is a microdeletion syndrome involving mutations in the NF2 gene located at 22q12.2 of chromosome 22. It is an inheritable disorder with an autosomal dominant mode of transmission. Incidence of the condition is about 1 in 60,000. There is a broad clinical spectrum known, but all patients checked have been found to have some mutation of the same gene on chromosome 22. Through statistics, it is suspected that one-half of cases are inherited, and one-half are the result of new, de novo mutations.
NF II is caused by a defect in the gene that normally gives rise to a product called Merlin or Schwannomin, located on chromosome 22 band q11-13.1. This peptide is thought to have a tumor-suppressive function. In a normal cell, the concentrations of active (dephosphorylated) merlin are controlled by processes such as cell adhesion (which would indicate the need to restrain cell division). It is known that Merlin's deficiency can result in unmediated progression through the cell cycle due to the lack of contact-mediated tumour suppression, sufficient to result in the tumors characteristic of Neurofibromatosis type II. Mutations of NF II is presumed to result in either a failure to synthesize Merlin or the production of a defective peptide that lacks the normal tumor-suppressive effect. The Schwannomin-peptide consists of 595 amino acids. Comparison of Schwannomin with other proteins shows similarities to proteins that connect the cytoskeleton to the cell membrane. Mutations in the Schwannomin-gene are thought to alter the movement and shape of affected cells with loss of contact inhibition. Ependymomas are tumors arising from the ependyma, an epithelium-like tissue of the central nervous system. In patients with NF2 and ependymomas, the tumor suppressant function of Merlin may be compromised. Loss of function mutations occurring in chromosome 22q, where Merlin proteins are coded, can promote tumorigenesis, or the creation of new tumorous cells. Deletions, too, in the NH2-terminal domain of merlin proteins have been associated with early tumor onset and poor prognosis in affected patients.
The so-called acoustic neuroma of NF II is in fact a schwannoma of the nervus vestibularis, or vestibular schwannoma. The misnomer of acoustic neuroma is still often used. The vestibular schwannomas grow slowly at the inner entrance of the internal auditory meatus (meatus acousticus internus). They derive from the nerve sheaths of the upper part of the nervus vestibularis in the region between the central and peripheral myelin (Obersteiner-Redlich-Zone) within the area of the porus acousticus, 1 cm from the brainstem.
Many people with NF II were included in studies that were designed to compare disease type and progression with exact determination of the associated mutation. The goal of such comparisons of genotype and phenotype is to determine whether specific mutations cause respective combinations of symptoms. This would be extremely valuable for the prediction of disease progression and the planning of therapy starting at a young age. The results of such studies are the following:
- In most cases the mutation in the NF II gene causes shortened peptides.
- There are no mutational hot-spots.
- Patients with frameshift mutations or nonsense mutations suffer poor prognosis.
- Patients with missense mutations have a better prognosis.
- In cases with mutations in the splice-acceptor-region, there is no good correlation to determine.
- Point mutations may have only minor effects.
- Cases are published in which exactly the same mutation is associated with clearly different outcome.
These results suggest that other factors (environment, other mutations) will probably determine the clinical outcome.
Bilateral vestibular schwannomas are diagnostic of NF2.
Ferner et al. give three sets of diagnostic criteria for NF2:
- Bilateral vestibular schwannoma (VS) or family history of NF2 plus Unilateral VS or any two of: meningioma, glioma, neurofibroma, schwannoma, posterior subcapsular lenticular opacities
- Unilateral VS plus any two of meningioma, glioma, neurofibroma, schwannoma, posterior subcapsular lenticular opacities
- Two or more meningioma plus unilateral VS or any two of glioma, schwannoma and cataract.
Another set of diagnostic criteria is the following:
- Detection of bilateral acoustic neuroma by imaging-procedures
- First degree relative with NF II and the occurrence of neurofibroma, meningiomas, glioma, or Schwannoma
- First degree relative with NF II and the occurrence of juvenile posterior subcapsular cataract.
The criteria have varied over time. The last revision of the NF2 criteria was done by M.J. Smith in 2017. This included the consideration of a LZTR1 mutation (schwannomatosis) instead of NF2 and excluded bilateral vestibular schwannomas that occur after 70 years of age. 
Early diagnosis allows better planning of therapy in young patients with NF II. In many cases, the hearing loss is present for 10 years before the correct diagnosis is established. Early in the condition, surgery for an acoustic neurinoma can protect facial nerve function in many patients. In selected cases of patients with very small tumors and good bilateral hearing, surgery may offer the possibility of long-term hearing preservation.
Patients with the Wishard phenotype suffer multiple recurrences of the tumour after surgical treatment. In the case of facial nerve palsy, the muscles of the eyelids can lose their mobility, leading to conjunctivitis and corneal injury. "Lidloading" (implantation of small magnets, gold weights, or springs in the lid) can help prevent these complications. Other means of preserving corneal health include tarsorrhaphy, where the eyelids are partially sewn together to narrow the opening of the eye, or the use of punctal plugs, which block the duct that drains tears from the conjunctival sac. All these techniques conserve moisture from the lacrymal glands, which lubricates the cornea and prevents injury. Most patients with NF II develop cataracts, which often require replacement of the lens. Children of affected parents should have a specialist examination every year to detect developing tumors. Learning of sign language is one means of preparation for those that will most probably suffer complete hearing loss.
There are several different surgical techniques for the removal of acoustic neuroma. The choice of approach is determined by size of the tumour, hearing capability, and general clinical condition of the patient.
- The retrosigmoid approach offers some opportunity for the retention of hearing.
- The translabyrinthine approach will sacrifice hearing on that side, but will usually spare the facial nerve. Post-operative cerebrospinal fluid leaks are more common.
- The middle fossa approach is preferred for small tumours, and offers the highest probability of retention of hearing and vestibular function.
- Less invasive endoscopic techniques have been done outside of the United States for some time. Recovery times are reported to be faster. However, this technique is not yet mainstream among surgeons in the US.
Larger tumors can be treated by either the translabyrinthine approach or the retrosigmoid approach, depending upon the experience of the surgical team. With large tumors, the chance of hearing preservation is small with any approach. When hearing is already poor, the translabyrinthine approach may be used for even small tumors. Small, lateralized tumours in patients with good hearing should have the middle fossa approach. When the location of the tumour is more medial a retrosigmoid approach may be better.
Auditory canal decompression is another surgical technique that can prolong usable hearing when a vestibular schwannoma has grown too large to remove without damage to the cochlear nerve. In the IAC (internal auditory canal) decompression, a middle fossa approach is employed to expose the bony roof of the IAC without any attempt to remove the tumor. The bone overlying the acoustic nerve is removed, allowing the tumour to expand upward into the middle cranial fossa. In this way, pressure on the cochlear nerve is relieved, reducing the risk of further hearing loss from direct compression or obstruction of vascular supply to the nerve.
Radiosurgery is a conservative alternative to cranial base or other intracranial surgery. With conformal radiosurgical techniques, therapeutic radiation focused on the tumour, sparing exposure to surrounding normal tissues. Although radiosurgery can seldom completely destroy a tumor, it can often arrest its growth or reduce its size. While radiation is less immediately damaging than conventional surgery, it incurs a higher risk of subsequent malignant change in the irradiated tissues, and this risk in higher in NF2 than in sporadic (non-NF2) lesions.
Systemic medical treatment
A 2009 clinical trial at Massachusetts General Hospital used the cancer drug Bevacizumab (commercial name: Avastin) to treat 10 patients with neurofibromatosis type II. The result was published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Of the ten patients treated with bevacizumab, tumours shrank in 9 of them, with the median best response rate of 26%. Hearing improved in some of the patients, but improvements were not strongly correlated with tumour shrinkage. Bevacizumab works by cutting the blood supply to the tumours and thus depriving them of their growth vector. Side effects during the study included alanine aminotransferase, proteinuria, and hypertension (elevated blood pressure) among others. A separate trial, published in The Neuro-oncology Journal, show 40% tumour reduction in the two patients with NF2, along with significant hearing improvement.
Overall the researchers believed that bevacizumab showed clinically significant effects on NF-2 patients. However, more research is needed before the full effects of bevacizumab can be established in NF-2 patients.
Because hearing loss in those with NF-2 almost always occurs after acquisition of verbal language skills, patients do not always integrate well into the Deaf culture and are more likely to resort to auditory assistive technology. The most sophisticated of these devices is the cochlear implant, which can sometimes restore a high level of auditory function even when natural hearing is totally lost. However, the amount of destruction to the cochlear nerve caused by the typical NF2 schwannoma often precludes the use of such an implant. In these cases, an auditory brainstem implant (ABI) can restore a primitive level of hearing, which, when supplemented by lip reading, can restore a functional understanding of spoken language.
The clinical spectrum of the condition is broad. In other words, people with NF II may develop a wide range of distinct problems.
- Acoustic nerve: 90% of the patients show bilateral acoustic schwannomas on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
- Other cranial nerves and meninges: About 50% of patients develop tumours in other cranial nerves or meningiomas.
- Spinal cord: About 50% of the patients develop spinal lesions. Only 40% of the spinal lesions are symptomatic. The spinal tumours in NF II are separated in two groups. Intramedullary lesions are located within the spinal tissue and usually belong to the so-called spinal astrocytomas or ependymomas. The extramedullary lesions are located within the small space between the surface of the spinal cord and the bony wall of the spinal canal. These tumours belong to the schwannomas and meningiomas.
- Skin: If children show neurofibromas, a diagnostic procedure should be performed to decide which form of neurofibromatosis causes the alterations.
- Eyes: Studies on patients with NF II show that more than 90% of the affected persons suffer eye lesions. The most common alteration in NF II is the juvenile subcapsular cataract (opacity of the lens) in young people.
"Presenting symptoms" (initial concern that brings a patient to a doctor) of a lesion of the nervus vestibulocochlearis due to a tumour in the region of the cerebello-pontine angle are the following: hearing loss (98%), tinnitus (70%), dysequilibrium (67%), headache (32%), facial numbness and weakness (29% and 10% respectively).
"Clinical signs" (alterations that are not regarded by the patient and that can be detected by the doctor in a clinical examination) of the lesion in discussion are: abnormal corneal reflex (33%), nystagmus (26%), facial hypesthesia (26%).
Evaluation (study of the patient with technical methods) shows the enlargement of the porus acousticus internus in the CT scan, enhancing tumours in the region of the cerebello-pontine angle in gadolinium-enhanced MRI scans, hearing loss in audiometric studies and perhaps pathological findings in electronystagmography. Some times there are elevated levels of protein in liquor study.
In NF II, acoustic neuromas usually affect young people, whereas in sporadic forms of acoustic neuromas, the appearance of the tumour is limited to the elderly.
There are two forms of the NF II:
- The Wishart-Phenotype is characterized by multiple cerebral and spinal lesions in patients younger than 20 years and with rapid progression of the tumours.
- Patients that develop single central tumours with slow progression after age of 20 are thought to have the Feiling-Gardner-Phenotype.
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