• Disease Overview
  • Synonyms
  • Subdivisions
  • Signs & Symptoms
  • Causes
  • Affected Populations
  • Disorders with Similar Symptoms
  • Standard Therapies
  • Clinical Trials and Studies
  • References
  • Programs & Resources
  • Complete Report



Last updated: June 16, 2010
Years published: 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1993, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2007, 2009, 2010


NORD gratefully acknowledges Charlotte Cunningham-Rundles, MD, PhD, Departments of Medicine, Pediatrics, The Immunology Institute, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, for assistance in the preparation of this report.

Disease Overview

Agammaglobulinemia is a group of inherited immune deficiencies characterized by a low concentration of antibodies in the blood due to the lack of particular lymphocytes in the blood and lymph. Antibodies are proteins (immunoglobulins, (IgM), (IgG) etc) that are critical and key components of the immune system. They are essential if the immune system is to do its job of fighting off bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances that threaten the body. The specialized precursor cells that produce gammaglobulins, fail to develop or function properly leading to the deficiency in the number of mature lymphocyte cells called B cells.

The types of agammaglobulinemia are: X-linked agammaglobulinemia (XLA), the much rarer X-linked agammaglobulinemia with growth hormone deficiency (about 10 cases reported), and autosomal recessive agammaglobulinemia (ARAG). All of these disorders are characterized by a weakened immune system that must be strengthened by the administration of gammaglobulin in order to fight off infections.

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  • hypogammaglobulinemia
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  • autosomal recessive agammaglobulinemia
  • X-linked agammaglobulinemia with growth hormone deficiency
  • X-linked agammaglobulinemia (XLA)
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Signs & Symptoms

The major symptoms of agammaglobulinemia are serial bacterial infections resulting from failures in specific immune responses because of defects in B-lymphocytes. These lymphocytes govern the production of antibodies. Males with X-linked primary agammaglobulinemia usually begin to show signs of such infections only late in the first year of life, after the IgG antibodies from the mother have been depleted.

Infections by almost any of the enterovirus family and the poliomyelitis virus can result in unusually severe illness in children with agammaglobulinemia. Echovirus infection can cause a group of symptoms that closely resembles dermatomyositis. These symptoms may include muscle weakness, often in the hip and shoulder areas, and difficulty swallowing. Areas of patchy, reddish skin may appear around the eyes, knuckles and elbows and occasionally on the knees and ankles. (For more information on this disorder, choose “dermatomyositis” as your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)

Infections caused by mycoplasma bacteria can lead to severe arthritis including joint swelling and pain, in children with primary agammaglobulinemia. Hemophilus influenzae is the most common mucous- producing infection (pyogenic) that occurs in people with X-linked agammaglobulinemia. Children may also have repeated infections with pneumococci, streptococci, and staphylococci bacteria, and infrequently pseudomonas infections.

Males with X-linked form of agammaglobulinemia have very low levels of IgA, IgG, and IgM antibodies circulating in their blood. Specialized white blood cells (neutrophils) are impaired in their ability to destroy bacteria, viruses, or other invading organisms (microbes). This occurs because neutrophils require antibodies from the immune system to begin to destroy invading bacteria (opsonization). The levels of circulating neutrophils in children with agammaglobulinemia may be persistently low, or may wax and wane (cyclic, transient neutropenia) in people with these disorders. The number of B-lymphocytes in children with X-linked agammaglobulinemia is less than one one-hundredth of the normal number.

Only about 10 persons in 5 or 6 families have been diagnosed with X-linked agammaglobulinemia with growth hormone deficiency. The boys in these families have reduced or undetectable numbers of B-lymphocytes. Clinicians and geneticists speculate that a second mutation in the BTK gene, very close to the mutation in this gene that causes XLA, is responsible for the combination of agammaglobulinemia and very short stature.

Autosomal recessive agammaglobulinemia has been reported to be due to genes that affect B cell development.

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X-linked agammaglobulinemia (B-lymphocyte defect) is inherited as an X-linked recessive genetic trait. The abnormal gene, named BTK, has been mapped to gene locus Xq21.3-q22. A different mutation in the BTK gene causes X-linked agammaglobulinemia with growth hormone deficiency. The genetic cause of ARAG is much more complex involving other genes that have been mapped to loci on different chromosomes: 22q11.21, 14q32.33, and 9q34.13. The genes at three sites are known as IGLL1, IGHM, and LCRR8 respectively.

Chromosomes are located in the nucleus of human cells and carry the genetic information for each individual. Human body cells normally have 46 chromosomes. Pairs of human chromosomes numbered from 1 through 22 are called autosomes and the sex chromosomes are designated X and Y. Males have one X and one Y chromosome and females have two X chromosomes. Each chromosome has a short arm designated “p” and a long arm designated “q”. Chromosomes are further sub-divided into many bands that are numbered. For example, “chromosome 21q11.21” refers to band 11.21 on the long arm of chromosome 21. Similarly 14q32.33 refers to band 32.33 on the long arm of chromosome 14, and 9q34.13 refers to band 34.13 on the long arm of chromosome 9. The site described as Xq21.3-q22 refers to a region on the long arm of the X chromosome between bands 21.3 and 22. The numbered bands specify the location of the thousands of genes that are present on each chromosome.

Genetic diseases are determined by the combination of genes for a particular trait that are on the chromosomes received from the father and the mother.

X-linked genetic disorders are conditions caused by an abnormal gene on the X chromosome and occur mostly in males. Females that have a disease gene present on one of their X chromosomes are carriers for that disorder. Carrier females usually do not display symptoms because females have two X chromosomes and one is inactivated so that the genes on that chromosome are nonfunctioning. It is usually the X chromosome with the abnormal gene that is inactivated. Males have one X chromosome that is inherited from their mother and if a male inherits an X chromosome that contains a disease gene he will develop the disease. Female carriers of an X-linked disorder have a 25% chance with each pregnancy to have a carrier daughter like themselves, a 25% chance to have a non-carrier daughter, a 25% chance to have a son affected with the disease and a 25% chance to have an unaffected son.

Males with X-linked disorders pass the disease gene to all of their daughters who will be carriers. A male cannot pass an X-linked gene to his sons because males always pass their Y chromosome instead of their X chromosome to male offspring.

Recessive genetic disorders occur when an individual inherits two copies of an abnormal gene for the same trait, one from each parent. If an individual receives one normal gene and one gene for the disease, the person will be a carrier for the disease but usually will not show symptoms. The risk for two carrier parents to both pass the defective gene and have an affected child is 25% with each pregnancy. The risk to have a child who is a carrier like the parents is 50% with each pregnancy. The chance for a child to receive normal genes from both parents and be genetically normal for that particular trait is 25%. The risk is the same for males and females.

All individuals carry 4-5 abnormal genes. Parents who are close relatives (consanguineous) have a higher chance than unrelated parents to both carry the same abnormal gene, which increases the risk to have children with a recessive genetic disorder.

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Affected populations

Primary Agammaglobulinemia is a rare disorder that occurs almost exclusively in males although some females have been affected by certain types of this disorder.

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Standard Therapies

The administration of intravenous gammaglobulin replacement therapy is a standard treatment for agammaglobulinemia. Intravenous gammaglobulin or subcutaneou. is used to treat agammaglobulinemias and common variable immunodeficiency.

Antibiotics are prescribed for people with agammaglobulinemia when bacterial infections occur. Some patients are treated with antibiotics as a preventive measure (prophylactically). All people who are immunodeficient should be protected as much as possible from exposure to infectious diseases. Corticosteroids or any drug that depresses the immune system (immunosuppressant drugs) should be avoided as much as possible, as well as physical activities such as rough contact sports that risk damage to the spleen.

In people with immunodeficiency with elevated IgM, there is a tendency to bleed excessively associated with abnormally low levels of circulating platelets in the blood (thrombocytopenia). This may complicate any surgical procedure.

Genetic counseling is recommended for people with agammaglobulinemias and their families. Other treatment is symptomatic and supportive.

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Clinical Trials and Studies

Information on current clinical trials is posted on the Internet at www.clinicaltrials.gov. All studies receiving U.S. Government funding, and some supported by private industry, are posted on this government web site.

For information about clinical trials being conducted at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, contact the NIH Patient Recruitment Office:

Tollfree: (800) 411-1222

TTY: (866) 411-1010

Email: prpl@cc.nih.gov

For information about clinical trials sponsored by private sources, contact:


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Beers MH, Berkow R., eds. The Merck Manual, 17th ed. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories; 1999:1035.

Berkow R., ed. The Merck Manual-Home Edition.2nd ed. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories; 2003:819-20.

Janeway CAJr, Travers P, Walport M, Shlomchik MJ. Immunobiology, 6th ed. Garland Science Publishing. New York, NY; 2005:474-75.


Kumar A, Teuber SS, Gershwin ME. Current perspectives on primary immunodifieciency diseases. Clin Dev Immunol. 2006;13:223-59.

Stangel M, Pul R. Basic principles of intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) treatment. J Neurol. 2006;253 Suppl 5:v18-v24.

Winkelstein JA, Marino MC, Lederman HM et al. X-linked agammaglobulinemia: report on a United States registry of 201 patients. Medicine (Baltimore). 2006;85:193-202.

Rose ME, Lang DM. Evaluating and managing hypogammaglobulinemia. Cleve Clin J Med. 2006;73:133-37, 140, 143-44.

Lawrence T, Puel A, Reichenbach j, et al. Autosomal-dominant primary immunodeficiencies. Curr Opin Hematol. 2005;12:22-30.


McKusick VA., ed. Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM). Baltimore. MD: The Johns Hopkins University; Bruton agammaglobulinemia tyrosine kinase: BTK. Entry No: 300300; Last Update:10/11/2006.

McKusick VA., ed. Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM). Baltimore. MD: The Johns Hopkins University; Agammaglobulinemia, X-Linked. Entry No: 300755; Last Update:12/19/08.

McKusick VA., ed. Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM). Baltimore. MD: The Johns Hopkins University; Agammaglobulinemia, Non-Bruton Type, Autosomal recessive. Entry No. 601495; Last Update: 1/6/06.

McKusick VA., ed. Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM). Baltimore. MD: The Johns Hopkins University; Hypogammaglobulinemia and isolated growth hormone deficiency, X-linked. Entry No. 307200; Last Update: 9/27/01.

Conley ME and Howard VC. Updated 12/21/05. X-Linked Agammaglobulinemia. In: GeneReviews at Genetests: Medical Genetics Information Resource (database online). Copyright, University of Washington, Seattle. 1997-2009. Available at https://www.genetests.org. Accessed 1/09.

Little FF. Agammaglobulinemia. Medical Encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. Update date 6/21/2006. 3pp.


Accessed on 1/04/2007

X-linked Agammaglobulinemia. Children’s Hospital Boston. ©2006. 3pp.


Accessed on 1/04/2007

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Programs & Resources

RareCare® Assistance Programs

NORD strives to open new assistance programs as funding allows. If we don’t have a program for you now, please continue to check back with us.

Additional Assistance Programs

MedicAlert Assistance Program

NORD and MedicAlert Foundation have teamed up on a new program to provide protection to rare disease patients in emergency situations.

Learn more https://rarediseases.org/patient-assistance-programs/medicalert-assistance-program/

Rare Disease Educational Support Program

Ensuring that patients and caregivers are armed with the tools they need to live their best lives while managing their rare condition is a vital part of NORD’s mission.

Learn more https://rarediseases.org/patient-assistance-programs/rare-disease-educational-support/

Rare Caregiver Respite Program

This first-of-its-kind assistance program is designed for caregivers of a child or adult diagnosed with a rare disorder.

Learn more https://rarediseases.org/patient-assistance-programs/caregiver-respite/

Patient Organizations

National Organization for Rare Disorders