Denys-Drash syndrome (DDS) is characterized by abnormal kidney function (congenital nephropathy), a cancerous tumor of the kidney called Wilms tumor, and disorders of sexual development in affected males. Most affected females have normal genitalia. DDS is agenetic disorder caused by mutations in the Wilms tumor suppressor gene, WT1.
The initial symptoms of DDS may be similar to nephrotic syndrome and include edema, abdominal distention and recurrent infections, sometimes present at birth but more often developing between 1 and 2 years of age. Many affected children develop high blood pressure (hypertension). The kidney abnormality that results in abnormal kidney function is termed diffuse mesangial sclerosis and usually results in a progression to renal failure during the first three years of life.
Wilms tumor occurs in approximately 90% of affected individuals and is sometimes the first clinical sign of the disease. Signs of Wilms tumor can include abdominal swelling, blood in the urine, decreased urination, low-grade fever, loss of appetite, paleness, weight loss and lethargy.
Disorders of sexual development also occur in males with DDS and are rare in females with this condition. These are conditions in which a boy has normal male chromosomes (46, XY), but the external genitals are incompletely formed, ambiguous, or clearly female. Testes may be normal, malformed, absent, or internal (undescended). Affected individuals of both genders are at risk for cancers of the testes or ovaries.
DDS is a genetic disorder caused by mutations in the Wilms tumor suppressor gene, WT1. The vast majority of the mutations occur in one of two areas of the gene located on chromosome 11, called exon 8 or exon 9. While mutations in a single copy of the WT1 gene are sufficient to produce nephropathy and disorders of sexual development, Wilms tumor results from mutations in both copies of the WT1 gene. The abnormal product of a single copy of mutant WT1 gene interferes with the function of the unaffected copy of the WT1 gene and changes its normal regulatory function. This is sufficient to produce nephropathy and disorders of sexual development. In contrast, Wilms tumor is a result of two independent events (two-hit hypothesis) that sequentially lead to loss of function of both copies of the WT1 gene. The first mutation in a single copy of the WT1 gene (first hit) leads to persistence of an undifferentiated tissue in the developing kidney, called mesenchyme. Subsequently, another mutation (second hit) in the second copy causes uncontrolled cell growth in the kidney and Wilms tumor formation.
Most cases of DDS are not inherited from a parent and occur as the result of a new gene mutation.
The prevalence of DDS is not known. Over 200 cases have been reported in the medical literature.
DDS is diagnosed by physical signs and symptoms, laboratory tests, imaging studies, and kidney biopsy to document diffuse mesangial sclerosis. Molecular genetic testing for the WT1 gene is available to confirm the diagnosis.
The treatment of DDS is supportive and requires consultation with a pediatric nephrologist, pediatric oncologist, pediatric surgeon, pediatric endocrinologist and geneticist.
Medical care involves management of fluids and electrolytes, treatment for hypertension and chemotherapy for Wilms tumor, if present. Prophylactic removal of kidneys (nephrectomy) is recommended when the diagnosis of DDS is made prior to development of Wilms tumor. Renal replacement therapy, including dialysis and/or kidney transplantation, are recommended following end-stage renal failure or nephrectomy. Surgical removal of internal reproductive organs (gonadectomy) is recommended because of the high risk for gonadal malignancy.
Genetic counseling is recommended. Other treatment is symptomatic and supportive.
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Contact for additional information about Denys-Drash syndrome:
Agnieszka Swiatecka-Urban, M.D., F.A.S.N.
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Cell Biology and Physiology
Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh,
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
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