What is the definition of Optic Nerve Atrophy?

Methylmalonic acidemia is a disorder in which the body cannot break down certain proteins and fats. The result is a buildup of a substance called methylmalonic acid in the blood. This condition is passed down through families.

It is one of several conditions called an "inborn error of metabolism."

What are the causes for Optic Nerve Atrophy?

The disease is most often diagnosed in the first year of life. It is an autosomal recessive disorder. This means the defective gene must be passed onto the child from both parents.

A newborn with this rare condition may die before it is ever diagnosed. Methylmalonic acidemia affects boys and girls equally.

What are the symptoms for Optic Nerve Atrophy?

Babies may appear normal at birth, but develop symptoms once they start eating more protein, which can cause the condition to get worse. The disease can cause seizures and stroke.

Symptoms include:

  • Brain disease that gets worse (progressive encephalopathy)
  • Dehydration
  • Developmental delays
  • Failure to thrive
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting

What are the current treatments for Optic Nerve Atrophy?

Treatment consists of cobalamin and carnitine supplements and a low-protein diet. The child's diet must be carefully controlled.

If supplements do not help, the health care provider may also recommend a diet that avoids substances called isoleucine, threonine, methionine, and valine.

Liver or kidney transplantation (or both) have been shown to help some patients. These transplants provide the body with new cells that help breakdown methylmalonic acid normally.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Optic Nerve Atrophy?

Babies may not survive their first episode of symptoms from this disease. Those who survive often have problems with the development of the nervous system, although normal cognitive development can occur.

What are the possible complications for Optic Nerve Atrophy?

Complications may include:

  • Coma
  • Death
  • Kidney failure
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Recurrent infections
  • Hypoglycemia

When should I contact a medical professional for Optic Nerve Atrophy?

Seek medical help right away if your child is having a seizure for the first time.

See a provider if your child has signs of:

  • Failure-to-thrive
  • Developmental delays

How do I prevent Optic Nerve Atrophy?

A low-protein diet can help reduce the number of attacks. People with this condition should avoid those who are sick with contagious illnesses, such as colds and the flu.

Genetic counseling may be helpful for couples with a family history of this disorder who wish to have a baby.

Sometimes, expanded newborn screening is done at birth, including screening for methylmalonic acidemia. You can ask your provider if your child had this screening.


Gallagher RC, Enns GM, Cowan TM, Mendelsohn B, Packman S. Aminoacidemias and organic acidemias. In: Swaiman KF, Ashwal S, Ferriero DM, et al, eds. Swaiman's Pediatric Neurology. 6th ed. Elsevier; 2017:chap 37.

Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM. Defects in metabolism of amino acids. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 103.

Madan-Khetarpal S, Arnold G. Genetic disorders and dysmorphic conditions. In: Zitelli BJ, McIntire SC, Nowalk AJ, eds. Zitelli and Davis' Atlas of Pediatric Physical Diagnosis. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 1.

Clinical Trial
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  • Start Date: September 1, 2020
Phenotypes, Biomarkers and Pathophysiology in Spastic Ataxias