Testing Angelman and Fragile X Syndrome Therapies in Younger Patients

Angelman syndrome (AS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by severe intellectual and developmental disability, sleep disturbance, seizures, jerky movements (especially hand-flapping), frequent laughter or smiling, and usually a happy demeanor.

AS is a classic example of genomic imprinting in that it is caused by deletion or inactivation of genes on the maternally inherited chromosome 15 while the paternal copy, which may be of normal sequence, is imprinted and therefore silenced. The sister syndrome, Prader–Willi syndrome, is caused by a similar loss of paternally inherited genes and maternal imprinting.

AS is named after a British pediatrician, Harry Angelman, who first described the syndrome in 1965. An older, alternative term for AS, “happy puppet syndrome”, is generally considered pejorative and stigmatizing so it is no longer the accepted term. People with AS are sometimes referred to as “angels”, both because of the syndrome’s name and because of their youthful, happy appearance.

Fragile X syndrome, or Martin-Bell syndrome, is a genetic syndrome which results in a spectrum of characteristic physical, intellectual, emotional and behavioural features which range from severe to mild in manifestation. Fragile X syndrome (also called FXS) is the most common cause of inherited mental retardation. It is also the most common known cause of autism.  It affects about 1 in 4000 males and 1 in 8000 females.

There are four generally accepted forms of Fragile X syndrome which relate to the length of the repeated CGG sequence:

Normal (29-31 CGG repeats), Premutation (55-200 CGG repeats), Full Mutation (more than 200 CGG repeats), and Intermediate or Gray Zone Alleles (40 – 60 repeats).

Amit Rakhit, MD, Chief Medical and Portfolio Officer of Ovid Therapeutics, discusses the importance of investigating Ovid’s therapies in younger patients suffering from Fragile X and Angelman syndromes. Fragile X syndrome is a genetic condition that causes a range of developmental problems including learning disabilities and cognitive impairment. Usually, males are more severely affected by this disorder than females. Affected individuals usually have delayed development of speech and language by age 2. Most males with fragile X syndrome have mild to moderate intellectual disability, while about one-third of affected females are intellectually disabled. Children with fragile X syndrome may also have anxiety and hyperactive behavior such as fidgeting or impulsive actions. They may have attention deficit disorder (ADD), which includes an impaired ability to maintain attention and difficulty focusing on specific tasks. About one-third of individuals with fragile X syndrome have features of autism spectrum disorders that affect communication and social interaction. Seizures occur in about 15 percent of males and about 5 percent of females with fragile X syndrome. Most males and about half of females with fragile X syndrome have characteristic physical features that become more apparent with age. These features include a long and narrow face, large ears, a prominent jaw and forehead, unusually flexible fingers, flat feet, and in males, enlarged testicles (macroorchidism) after puberty. Angelman syndrome is a complex genetic disorder that primarily affects the nervous system. Characteristic features of this condition include delayed development, intellectual disability, severe speech impairment, and problems with movement and balance (ataxia). Most affected children also have recurrent seizures (epilepsy) and a small head size (microcephaly). Delayed development becomes noticeable by the age of 6 to 12 months, and other common signs and symptoms usually appear in early childhood. Children with Angelman syndrome typically have a happy, excitable demeanor with frequent smiling, laughter, and hand-flapping movements. Hyperactivity, a short attention span, and a fascination with water are common. Most affected children also have difficulty sleeping and need less sleep than usual. With age, people with Angelman syndrome become less excitable, and the sleeping problems tend to improve. However, affected individuals continue to have intellectual disability, severe speech impairment, and seizures throughout their lives. Adults with Angelman syndrome have distinctive facial features that may be described as “coarse.” Other common features include unusually fair skin with light-colored hair and an abnormal side-to-side curvature of the spine (scoliosis). The life expectancy of people with this condition appears to be nearly normal.