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Cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy
(often shortened to CADASIL)
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Reviewed May 2013
What is CADASIL?
Cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy, usually called CADASIL, is an inherited condition that causes stroke and other impairments. This condition affects blood flow in small blood vessels, particularly cerebral vessels within the brain. The muscle cells surrounding these blood vessels (vascular smooth muscle cells) are abnormal and gradually die. In the brain, the resulting blood vessel damage (arteriopathy) can cause migraines, often with visual sensations or auras, or recurrent seizures (epilepsy).
Damaged blood vessels reduce blood flow and can cause areas of tissue death (infarcts) throughout the body. An infarct in the brain can lead to a stroke. In individuals with CADASIL, a stroke can occur at any time from childhood to late adulthood, but typically happens during mid-adulthood. People with CADASIL often have more than one stroke in their lifetime. Recurrent strokes can damage the brain over time. Strokes that occur in the subcortical region of the brain, which is involved in reasoning and memory, can cause progressive loss of intellectual function (dementia) and changes in mood and personality.
Many people with CADASIL also develop leukoencephalopathy, which is a change in a type of brain tissue called white matter that can be seen with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The age at which the signs and symptoms of CADASIL first begin varies greatly among affected individuals, as does the severity of these features.
CADASIL is not associated with the common risk factors for stroke and heart attack, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, although some affected individuals might also have these health problems.
How common is CADASIL?
CADASIL is likely a rare condition; however, its prevalence is unknown.
What genes are related to CADASIL?
Mutations in the NOTCH3 gene cause CADASIL. The NOTCH3 gene provides instructions for producing the Notch3 receptor protein, which is important for the normal function and survival of vascular smooth muscle cells. When certain molecules attach (bind) to Notch3 receptors, the receptors send signals to the nucleus of the cell. These signals then turn on (activate) particular genes within vascular smooth muscle cells.
NOTCH3 gene mutations lead to the production of an abnormal Notch3 receptor protein that impairs the function and survival of vascular smooth muscle cells. Disruption of Notch3 functioning can lead to the self-destruction (apoptosis) of these cells. In the brain, the loss of vascular smooth muscle cells results in blood vessel damage that can cause the signs and symptoms of CADASIL.
Read more about the NOTCH3 gene.
How do people inherit CADASIL?
This condition is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means one copy of the altered NOTCH3 gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the disorder.
In most cases, an affected person inherits the mutation from one affected parent. A few rare cases may result from new mutations in the NOTCH3 gene. These cases occur in people with no history of the disorder in their family.
Where can I find information about diagnosis or management of CADASIL?
These resources address the diagnosis or management of CADASIL 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 CADASIL?
You may find the following resources about CADASIL 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 CADASIL?
What if I still have specific questions about CADASIL?
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 CADASIL?
apoptosis ; arteriopathy ; autosomal ; autosomal dominant ; cell ; cholesterol ; dementia ; familial ; gene ; heart attack ; imaging ; infarct ; leukoencephalopathy ; magnetic resonance imaging ; mutation ; nucleus ; prevalence ; protein ; receptor ; risk factors ; subcortical ; tissue ; vascular ; white matter
You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.
See also Understanding Medical Terminology.
References (8 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.