June 07, 2022
Years published: 1988, 1989, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2008, 2012, 2015, 2018
NORD gratefully acknowledges Nathaniel H. Robin, MD, Professor of Genetics and Pediatrics, University of Alabama at Birmingham, for assistance in the preparation of this report.
Pfeiffer syndrome is a rare genetic disorder characterized by premature fusion of certain skull bones (craniosynostosis), and abnormally broad and medially deviated thumbs and great toes. Most affected individuals also have differences to their midface (protruding eyes) and conductive hearing loss. Three forms of Pfeiffer syndrome are recognized, of which types II and III are the more serious.
Pfeiffer syndrome is an autosomal dominant condition associated with mutations in the genes fibroblast growth factor receptor-2 (FGFR2) and fibroblast growth factor receptor-1 (FGFR1).
Pfeiffer syndrome is now known to be a member of a group of conditions caused by mutations in the FGFR genes including Apert syndrome, Crouzon syndrome, Beare-Stevenson syndrome, FGFR2-related isolated coronal synostosis, Jackson-Weiss syndrome, Crouzon syndrome with acanthosis nigricans and Muenke syndrome. (For more information on these conditions, please see the Related Disorders section below.)
Infants with Pfeiffer syndrome type I have craniosynostosis that causes the head to appear short and tall (turribrachycephaly). Additional features may include a high, full forehead; underdeveloped midfacial regions (midface hypoplasia); widely spaced eyes (ocular hypertelorism); an underdeveloped upper jaw (hypoplastic maxilla), with a prominent lower jaw; and dental abnormalities. Intelligence is usually normal.
Pfeiffer syndrome type II is characterized by a more severe form of craniosynostosis (Cloverleaf skull), with more severe hand and foot anomalies and additional malformations of the limbs. In infants with Pfeiffer syndrome type II, premature closure of the fibrous joints (cranial sutures) between several bones in the skull causes the skull to have a “tri-lobed” appearance (cloverleaf skull deformity, or Kleeblattschadel type craniosynostosis). In addition, this form of craniosynostosis is often associated with hydrocephalus, a condition in which the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is altered, leading to abnormal widening (dilatation) of the spaces within the brain (ventricles) causing accumulation of CSF in the skull and increased pressure on the brain. Characteristic craniofacial features associated with Pfeiffer syndrome type II may include an abnormally high, broad forehead; severe protrusion of the eyes (ocular proptosis); an unusually flat middle portion of the face (midface hypoplasia); a “beak-shaped” nose; and downwardly displaced ears. Affected infants may also exhibit abnormal fixation and lack of mobility (ankylosis) of the elbow joints and/or, in some cases, various malformations of certain internal organs in the abdomen (visceral anomalies). In addition, infants with Pfeiffer syndrome type II often experience impaired mental development and neurological problems due to severe involvement of the brain, and/or hypoxia due to problems with breathing. Without appropriate treatment, the physical abnormalities associated with the disorder may lead to life-threatening complications during infancy.
Individuals with Pfeiffer syndrome type III have symptoms and findings similar to those present in Pfeiffer syndrome type II, with the exception of the cloverleaf skull deformity. Additional characteristics associated with Pfeiffer syndrome type III include a shortened base of the skull (anterior cranial base); the abnormal presence of certain teeth at birth (natal teeth); severe protrusion of the eyes (ocular proptosis) due to abnormal shallowness of the bony cavities that accommodate the eyeballs (orbit); and/or various malformations of certain internal organs in the abdominal area (visceral anomalies). As in type II, individuals with Pfeiffer syndrome type III often experience impaired mental development and severe neurological problems and may develop potentially life-threatening complications early in life without appropriate treatment.
Pfeiffer syndrome is an autosomal dominant genetic disorder. Dominant genetic disorders occur when only a single copy of an abnormal gene is necessary to cause a particular disease. The abnormal gene can be inherited from either parent or can be the result of a new mutation (gene change) in the affected individual. Essentially all cases of Pfeiffer syndrome type II and type III have resulted from new mutations. Advanced paternal age is associated with an increased risk for new mutations for Pfeiffer syndrome. The risk of passing the abnormal gene from an affected parent to offspring is 50% for each pregnancy. The risk is the same for males and females.
Pfeiffer syndrome type I is associated with mutations in FGFR1 and FGFR2. Pfeiffer syndrome type II and type III are associated with mutations in FGFR2.
The incidence of all types of Pfeiffer syndrome is approximately 1/100,000.
The diagnosis of Pfeiffer syndrome is based on clinical findings. Molecular genetic testing for FGFR1 and FGFR2 is available if the diagnosis is uncertain.
The treatment of Pfeiffer syndrome is directed toward the specific symptoms that are apparent in each individual. Treatment may require the coordinated efforts of a team of specialists. Pediatricians; surgeons; physicians who diagnose and treat disorders of the ears, nose, and throat (otolaryngologists); neurologists; specialists who assess and treat hearing problems (audiologists); and/or other health care professionals may need to systematically and comprehensively plan an affected child’s treatment.
Specific therapies for Pfeiffer syndrome are symptomatic and supportive. Because craniosynostosis and, in some cases, associated hydrocephalus may result in abnormally increased pressure within the skull (intracranial pressure) and on the brain, early surgery may be advised to correct craniosynostosis and, in the case of hydrocephalus, to insert a tube (shunt) to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) away from the brain and into another part of the body where the CSF can be absorbed. Early corrective and reconstructive surgery may also be performed in infants with Pfeiffer syndrome to help correct certain associated craniofacial abnormalities (e.g., midface hypoplasia, facial asymmetry, nasal abnormalities, ocular proptosis due to shallow orbits). The results of such craniofacial surgery may vary.
Airway compromise can also occur, especially in very young children. This causes low oxygen levels that can, if unrecognized and untreated, result in brain damage.
In addition, in some cases, reconstructive surgery may be performed to help correct ear malformations and/or specialized hearing aids may be used to improve conductive hearing loss.
In some individuals with Pfeiffer syndrome, surgery may also be conducted to help correct syndactyly and/or other skeletal malformations and improve function and mobility. Physical therapy and additional orthopedic and supportive measures may also be used to help further improve an affected individual’s mobility. The surgical procedure(s) performed to correct certain craniofacial, audiological, digital, and/or skeletal abnormalities associated with the disorder will depend upon the severity and location of the anatomical abnormalities and their associated symptoms.
Early intervention may be important to ensure that children with Pfeiffer syndrome reach their potential. Special services that may be beneficial to affected children include special social support, physical therapy, and other medical, social, and/or vocational services.
Genetic counseling is recommended for affected individuals and their families. In addition, thorough clinical evaluations may be important in family members of diagnosed individuals to detect any symptoms and physical characteristics that may be potentially associated with Pfeiffer syndrome.
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: [email protected]
Some current clinical trials also are posted on the following page on the NORD website:
For information about clinical trials sponsored by private sources, contact:
For information about clinical trials conducted in Europe, contact:
(Please note that some of these organizations may provide information concerning certain conditions potentially associated with this disorder [e.g., craniofacial malformations, digital and skeletal abnormalities, hearing loss, etc.].)
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