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Reviewed March 2014
What is Björnstad syndrome?
Björnstad syndrome is a rare disorder characterized by abnormal hair and hearing problems. Affected individuals have a condition known as pili torti, which means "twisted hair," so named because the strands appear twisted when viewed under a microscope. The hair is brittle and breaks easily, leading to short hair that grows slowly. In Björnstad syndrome, pili torti usually affects only the hair on the head; eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair on other parts of the body are normal. The proportion of hairs affected and the severity of brittleness and breakage can vary. This hair abnormality commonly begins before the age of 2. It may become milder with age, particularly after puberty.
People with Björnstad syndrome also have hearing problems that become evident in early childhood. The hearing loss, which is caused by changes in the inner ear (sensorineural deafness), can range from mild to severe. Mildly affected individuals may be unable to hear sounds at certain frequencies, while severely affected individuals may not be able to hear at all.
How common is Björnstad syndrome?
Björnstad syndrome is a rare condition, although its prevalence is unknown. It has been found in populations worldwide.
What genes are related to Björnstad syndrome?
Björnstad syndrome is caused by mutations in the BCS1L gene. The protein produced from this gene is found in cell structures called mitochondria, which convert the energy from food into a form that cells can use. In mitochondria, the BCS1L protein plays a role in oxidative phosphorylation, which is a multistep process through which cells derive much of their energy. The BCS1L protein is critical for the formation of a group of proteins known as complex III, which is one of several protein complexes involved in this process. As a byproduct of its action in oxidative phosphorylation, complex III produces reactive oxygen species, which are harmful molecules that can damage DNA and tissues.
BCS1L gene mutations involved in Björnstad syndrome alter the BCS1L protein and impair its ability to aid in complex III formation. The resulting decrease in complex III activity reduces oxidative phosphorylation. For unknown reasons, overall production of reactive oxygen species is increased, although production by complex III is reduced. Researchers believe that tissues in the inner ears and hair follicles are particularly sensitive to reactive oxygen species and are damaged by the abnormal amount of these molecules, leading to the characteristic features of Björnstad syndrome.
Read more about the BCS1L gene.
How do people inherit Björnstad syndrome?
Björnstad syndrome is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern, which means both copies of the gene in each cell have mutations. The parents of an individual with an autosomal recessive condition each carry one copy of the mutated gene, but they typically do not show signs and symptoms of the condition.
Where can I find information about diagnosis or management of Björnstad syndrome?
These resources address the diagnosis or management of Björnstad syndrome and may include treatment providers.
General information about the diagnosis and management of genetic conditions is available in the Handbook. Read more about genetic testing, particularly the difference between clinical tests and research tests.
To locate a healthcare provider, see How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.
Where can I find additional information about Björnstad syndrome?
You may find the following resources about Björnstad syndrome helpful. These materials are written for the general public.
You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for healthcare professionals and researchers.
What other names do people use for Björnstad syndrome?
What if I still have specific questions about Björnstad syndrome?
Where can I find general information about genetic conditions?
The Handbook provides basic information about genetics in clear language.
These links provide additional genetics resources that may be useful.
What glossary definitions help with understanding Björnstad syndrome?
autosomal ; autosomal recessive ; cell ; DNA ; gene ; inherited ; mitochondria ; oxidative phosphorylation ; oxygen ; phosphorylation ; prevalence ; protein ; puberty ; reactive oxygen species ; recessive ; sensorineural ; sensorineural hearing loss ; syndrome
You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.
See also Understanding Medical Terminology.
References (5 links)
The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.