Hereditary hyperekplexia is a condition in which affected infants have increased muscle tone (hypertonia) and an exaggerated startle reaction to unexpected stimuli, especially loud noises. Following the startle reaction, infants experience a brief period in which they are very rigid and unable to move. During these rigid periods, some infants stop breathing, which, if prolonged, can be fatal. Infants with hereditary hyperekplexia have hypertonia at all times, except when they are sleeping.
Mutations in multiple genes have been found to cause hereditary hyperekplexia. Most of these genes provide instructions for producing proteins that are found in nerve cells (neurons). These proteins are involved in the response of neurons to a molecule called glycine. This molecule is an amino acid, which is a building block of proteins. Glycine also acts as a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical messenger that transmits signals in the nervous system. Gene mutations that cause hereditary hyperekplexia disrupt normal glycine signaling in neurons in the spinal cord and the part of the brain that is connected to the spinal cord (the brainstem). Abnormal signaling in neurons in the brain and neurons that send signals to muscles throughout the body result in abnormal muscle movements, exaggerated startle reaction, and other symptoms characteristic of this disorder.
The exact prevalence of hereditary hyperekplexia is unknown. This condition has been identified in more than 150 individuals worldwide.
Hereditary hyperekplexia has different inheritance patterns.
Published Date: May 01, 2018Published By: National Institutes of Health