NORD gratefully acknowledges Jeffrey Sugarman MD, PhD, Pediatric and Adult Dermatology, Medical Director Redwood Family Dermatology, Associate Clinical Professor in Dermatology and Family Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, for assistance in the preparation of this report.
Nevus sebaceus syndrome is a rare multisystem disorder characterized by sebaceous nevus associated with other abnormalities outside the skin, which most commonly affect the brain, eyes and bones. The skin lesions associated with this disorder are called nevus sebaceus (also referred to as sebaceous nevi) because they consist of an increased number of malformed sebaceous glands (small oil-producing glands in the skin) along with an overgrowth (hyperplasia) of the epidermis.
Nevus sebaceus is the most common type of organoid epidermal nevus (which broadly encompasses abnormally formed adnexal skin elements such as hair follicles and glands within the skin). Epidermal nevi are usually present at birth (congenital), although they might not be identified until later during childhood or after puberty. Affected individuals may also have abnormalities affecting the brain such as seizures or intellectual impairment, the eyes such as clouding (opacity) of the cornea or partial absence of tissue of the iris or retina (coloboma), and the skeleton such as spinal malformations, craniofacial defects, and deformities of the arms and legs. Nevus sebaceus syndrome occurs randomly for no apparent reason (sporadically) during the formation and development of the embryo (embryogenesis), due to a mutation of a gene (ras) that occurs after fertilization (postzygotic mutation) and is present in only some of the cells of the body (mosaic pattern).
The term “epidermal nevus syndrome” is used interchangeably with nevus sebaceous syndrome. However, epidermal nevus syndrome no longer refers to a single entity, but rather represents a group of distinct, but related multisystem disorders. Additional terms used to describe nevus sebaceus syndrome include Schimmelpenning syndrome, Schimmelpenning-Feuerstein-Mims syndrome, linear sebaceous nevus sequence, nevus sebaceous of Jadassohn, Jadassohn nevus phacomatosis and Jadassohn sebaceous nevus syndrome.
The specific symptoms and severity of nevus sebaceus syndrome can vary greatly from one person to another. It is important to note that affected individuals may not have all of the symptoms discussed below. Affected individuals or their parents should talk to their physician and medical team about their specific case, associated symptoms and overall prognosis.
The characteristic skin lesion that affects individuals with nevus sebaceus syndrome is a sebaceous nevus, which is a type of epidermal nevus. The scalp, neck and face are most often affected. The arms, legs and trunk may also be affected. Sebaceous nevi are usually salmon or yellowed colored, hairless, smooth patches. Eventually (usually around puberty) they become more pronounced and may appear scaly, warty or thickened. When the scalp is involved, large lesions may be present with associated areas of hair loss (alopecia). Sebaceous nevi may be prominent and easily noticeable at birth or be subtle and unrecognized. Sometimes, sebaceous nevi do not become apparent until after puberty when they go through the above mentioned changes. The lesions, apart from their appearance, usually do not cause additional symptoms.
Nevus sebaceous most often occurs as isolated finding and usually is not associated with any abnormalities in other organs. However, when it occurs with additional extra-cutaneous symptoms, the term, nevus sebaceus syndrome, is appropriate. Some researchers have noted that central facial epidermal nevi may be more likely to be associated with malformations of the brain, eyes and cranial bones.
Neurological abnormalities often occur in individuals with nevus sebaceus syndrome including seizures, delays in attaining developmental milestones (developmental delays), intellectual impairment, damage to certain cranial nerves and abnormalities affecting certain structures of the brain. Such abnormalities include one side of the brain being larger than the other (hemimegalencephaly), malformation (dysplasia) of the certain brain vessels, absence (agenesis) of the bundle of nerves that connects the two cerebral hemispheres (corpus callosum), and defects of the folds of the brain including a smooth brain that lacks the distinctive folds (agyria), abnormally small folds (microgyria) and abnormally thickened folds (pachygyria).
Individuals with nevus sebaceus syndrome may also have Dandy-Walker malformation, a rare malformation of the brain that is present at birth (congenital). It is characterized by an abnormally enlarged space at the back of the brain (cystic 4th ventricle) that interferes with the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid through the openings between the ventricle and other parts of the brain (foramina of Magendiand Luschka). Excessive amounts of fluid accumulate around the brain and cause abnormally high pressure within the skull, swelling of the head (congenital hydrocephalus), and neurological impairment. Motor delays and learning problems may also occur. Dandy-Walker malformation is a form of “obstructive” or “internal noncommunicating hydrocephalus”, meaning that the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid is blocked resulting in the widening of the ventricles. Dandy-Walker malformation is often associated with partial agenesis of part of the cerebellum known as the cerebellar vermis. (For more information on this disorder, choose “Dandy-Walker” as your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)
Ocular abnormalities also occur in nevus sebaceus syndrome including a partial absence of tissue (coloboma) from the colored portion of the eye (iris) or the membrane lining the back of the eyes (retina), clouding (opacity) of the cornea, crossed eyes (strabismus), defects of the optic nerve and scarring degeneration or detachment of the retina. Some individuals may have a benign, yellowish-white, fatty tumor on the outer portion of the eyeball (epibulbarlipodermoid). A sebaceous nevus on the face can potentially involve structures in the eye including the eyelids and the thin, clear membrane that covers the outer surface of the eye (conjunctiva).
Affected individuals may also have skeletal malformations including abnormal curvature of the spine, dislocation of the hip, and deformities of the limbs. Craniofacial defects such as an unusually prominent forehead (frontal bossing), underdeveloped nasal and orbital bones and asymmetry of the skull may also occur. Additional skeletal malformations may include bone cysts, underdevelopment of the pelvis and incomplete formation of certain bony structures including the ankle, foot and bones of the spinal column (vertebrae).
Individuals with nevus sebaceus syndrome may also develop vitamin D-resistant rickets, a condition characterized by bow deformities of the legs, pain in the legs and progressive softening of the bone structure. In children, growth rates may be slow, ultimately resulting in short stature. Affected individuals may be prone to fractures.
According to the medical literature, sebaceus nevi are associated with an increased risk of developing secondary benign skin tumors such as trichoblastoma or syringocystadenomapapilliferum, whereas malignant secondary tumors (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, sebaceous carcinoma) arising in association with a sebaceous nevus are very rare.
Recent research has identified individuals with nevus sebaceus syndrome have postzygotic mutations of the KRAS and HRAS genes. In addition, HRAS and KRAS mutations have been found in isolated sebaceous nevus (in the absence of associated extracutaneous abnormalities). More research is necessary to further explore the relationship of ras mutations and the complex phenotype seen in some affected patients.
Nevus sebaceus syndrome affects males and females in equal numbers. The exact prevalence and incidence of the disorder in the general population are unknown. Epidermal nevi (as an isolated finding or a part of a syndrome) have been reported to occur in approximately 1 to 3 per 1,000 live births.
A diagnosis of nevus sebaceus syndrome is made based upon identification of characteristic symptoms (e.g., a sebaceous nevus along with abnormalities affecting other organ systems), a detailed patient history and a thorough clinical evaluation.
Clinical Testing and Work-Up
In some cases, a small sample of affected skin may be taken for microscopic study (biopsy). Additional tests may be required to detect the presence and extent of associated symptoms. Such tests include a skeletal survey, a complete ophthalmologic exam, chests x-rays and specialized imaging techniques to evaluate the brain. Such imaging techniques may include computerized tomography (CT) scanning and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Whether a child with a sebaceous nevus should undergo such imaging techniques is controversial. Some researchers believe that these tests should be avoided unless there are clinical signs of central nervous system involvement.
The treatment of nevus sebaceus 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, pediatric neurologists, dermatologists, orthopedists, orthopedic surgeons, ophthalmologists, and other healthcare professionals may need to systematically and comprehensively plan an affect child’s treatment.
The specific therapeutic procedures and interventions for individuals with nevus sebaceus syndrome will vary, depending upon numerous factors including the specific symptoms present, the extent of the disorder, an individual’s age and overall health, tolerance of certain medications or procedures, personal preference and other factors. Decisions concerning the use of particular therapeutic interventions should be made by physicians and other members of the healthcare team in careful consultation with the patient and/or parents based upon the specifics of his or her case; a thorough discussion of the potential benefits and risks, including possible side effects and long-term effects; patient preference; and other appropriate factors.
Surgery may be performed to improve cosmetic appearance of individuals with nevus sebaceus syndrome. In the past, surgery was recommended because of the risk of malignancy. However, now that the risk of malignancy is much less than previously believed, this view is no longer advocated, especially if surgery will be disfiguring. In addition, the surgical excision of a lesion may not always be possible due to the specific location of the nevus.
Additional therapies for nevus sebaceus syndrome depend upon the specific abnormalities present and usually follow standard guidelines. For example, epilepsy may be treated by anti-seizure medications and certain skeletal and ocular malformations may also be treated surgically. In the medical literature, several cases have been reported where neurosurgery has been used to treat individuals with nevus sebaceus syndrome and epilepsy.
Additional therapies that may be used to treat individuals with nevus sebaceus syndrome include remedial education, physical therapy and occupational therapy all of which should be individualized. Genetic counseling may be of benefit for affected individuals and their families.
An antibody directed at the FGF23 protein is currently being investigated for the treatment of nevus sebaceous syndrome associated with vitamin D resistant rickets (also called cutaneous skeletal hypophosphatemia syndrome). KRAS and HRAS mutations in nevus sebaceus syndrome associated with vitamin D resistant rickets lead to excessive production of FGF23 leading to phosphate and calcium wasting.
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:
Toll-free: (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, in the main, contact:
For information about clinical trials conducted in Europe, contact:
Asch S, Sugarman JL Epidermal Nevus Syndromes. Handb Clin Neurol. 132:291-316. 2015.
Sugarman, JL. Epidermal Nevus Syndromes: an overview. In: Phakomatoses&Hamartoneoplastic Syndromes. Ruggieri, Martino; Pascual Castroviejo, Ignacio; Di Rocco, Concezio (Eds.) SpringerWein, New York. 2008.
Jones KL. Ed. Smith’s Recognizable Patterns of Human Malformation. 6th ed. Elsevier Saunders, Philadelphia, PA; 2006:576.
Prayson RA. Epidermal Nevus Syndrome. NORD Guide to Rare Disorders. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Philadelphia, PA. 2003:105-106.
Gorlin RJ, Cohen MMJr, Hennekam RCM. Eds. Syndromes of the Head and Neck. 4th ed. Oxford University Press, New York, NY; 2001:484-485.
Asche S, Sugarman JL. Epidermal nevus syndromes: New insights into whorls and swirls. Pediatric Dermatology 2018;35:21–29. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/pde.13273
Asch S, Sugarman JL. Fifty-two words for snow: dermatologists naming epidermal naevi Br J Dermatol. 2018 Jan;178(1):296. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28960256
Lim Y, Ovejero D, Sugarman JL, et al. Multilineage somatic activating mutations in HRAS and NRAS cause mosaic cutaneous and skeletal lesions, elevated FGF23 and hypophosphatemia. Human Molecular Genetics. 2014; 23(2):397-407. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24006476
Levinsohn JL, Tian LC, Boyden LM, McNiff JM, Narayan D, Loring ES, Yun D, Sugarman JL, Overton JD, Mane SM, Lifton RP, Paller AS, Wagner AM, Antaya RJ, Choate KA.. Whole-exome sequencing reveals somatic mutations in HRAS and KRAS, which cause nevus sebaceous. J Invest Dermatol. 2013 Mar;133(3):827-30. doi: 10.1038/jid.2012.379. Epub 2012 Oct 25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23096712
Groesser L, Herschberger E, Ruetten A, et al. Postzygotic HRAS and KRAS mutations cause nevus sebaceous and Schimmelpenning syndrome. Nat Genet. 2012;44:783-787. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22683711
Moody MN, Landau JM, Goldberg LH. Nevus sebaceous revisited. PediatrDermatol. 2012;29:15-23. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21995782
Happle R.The group of epidermal nevus syndromes. Part I. Well defined phenotypes. J Am AcadDerm. 2010;63:1-22.
Happle R.The group of epidermal nevus syndromes. Part II. Less well defined phenotypes. J Am AcadDerm. 2010;63:25-30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20542175
Brandling-Bennett HA, Morel KD. Epidermal nevi. PediatrClin North Am. 2010;57:1177-1198. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20888465
Amato C, Elia M, Schepis C. Schimmelpenning syndrome: a kind of craniofacial epidermal nevus associated with cerebral and ocular MR imaging abnormalities. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2010;31:E47-48. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20299435
Greene AK, Rogers GF, Mulliken JB.Schimmelpenning syndrome: an association with vascular anomalies. Cleft Palate Craniofac J. 2007;44:208-215. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17328648
Sugarman JL.Epidermal nevus syndromes.Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2004;23:145-157. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15295924
Happle R. Gustav Schimmelpenning and the syndrome bearing his name. Dermatology. 2004;209:84-87. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15316159
The information in NORD’s Rare Disease Database is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a physician or other qualified medical professional.
The content of the website and databases of the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) is copyrighted and may not be reproduced, copied, downloaded or disseminated, in any way, for any commercial or public purpose, without prior written authorization and approval from NORD. Individuals may print one hard copy of an individual disease for personal use, provided that content is unmodified and includes NORD’s copyright.
National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
55 Kenosia Ave., Danbury CT 06810 • (203)744-0100