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Reviewed January 2009
What is Roberts syndrome?
Roberts syndrome is a genetic disorder characterized by limb and facial abnormalities. Affected individuals also grow slowly before and after birth. Mild to severe intellectual impairment occurs in half of all people with Roberts syndrome.
Children with Roberts syndrome are born with abnormalities of all four limbs. They have shortened arm and leg bones (hypomelia), particularly the bones in their forearms and lower legs. In severe cases, the limbs may be so short that the hands and feet are located very close to the body (phocomelia). People with Roberts syndrome may also have abnormal or missing fingers and toes, and joint deformities (contractures) commonly occur at the elbows and knees. The limb abnormalities are very similar on the right and left sides of the body, but arms are usually more severely affected than legs.
Individuals with Roberts syndrome typically have numerous facial abnormalities, including an opening in the lip (a cleft lip) with or without an opening in the roof of the mouth (cleft palate), a small chin (micrognathia), ear abnormalities, wide-set eyes (hypertelorism), outer corners of the eyes that point downward (down-slanting palpebral fissures), small nostrils, and a beaked nose. They may have a small head size (microcephaly), and in severe cases affected individuals have a sac-like protrusion of the brain (encephalocele) at the front of their head. In addition, people with Roberts syndrome may have heart, kidney, and genital abnormalities.
Infants with a severe form of Roberts syndrome are often stillborn or die shortly after birth. Mildly affected individuals may live into adulthood. A condition called SC phocomelia syndrome was originally thought to be distinct from Roberts syndrome; however, it is now considered to be a mild variant. "SC" represents the first letters of the surnames of the two families first diagnosed with this disorder.
How common is Roberts syndrome?
Roberts syndrome is a rare disorder; approximately 150 affected individuals have been reported.
What genes are related to Roberts syndrome?
Mutations in the ESCO2 gene cause Roberts syndrome. This gene provides instructions for making a protein that is important for proper chromosome separation during cell division. Before cells divide, they must copy all of their chromosomes. The copied DNA from each chromosome is arranged into two identical structures, called sister chromatids. The ESCO2 protein plays an important role in establishing the glue that holds the sister chromatids together until the chromosomes are ready to separate.
All identified mutations in the ESCO2 gene prevent the cell from producing any functional ESCO2 protein, which causes some of the glue between sister chromatids to be missing around the chromosome's constriction point (centromere). In Roberts syndrome, cells respond to abnormal sister chromatid attachment by delaying cell division. Delayed cell division can be a signal that the cell should undergo self-destruction. The signs and symptoms of Roberts syndrome may result from the loss of cells from various tissues during early development. Because both mildly and severely affected individuals lack any functional ESCO2 protein, the underlying cause of the variation in disease severity remains unknown. Researchers suspect that other genetic and environmental factors may be involved.
Read more about the ESCO2 gene.
How do people inherit Roberts syndrome?
This condition 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 Roberts syndrome?
These resources address the diagnosis or management of Roberts 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 Roberts syndrome?
You may find the following resources about Roberts 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 Roberts syndrome?
What if I still have specific questions about Roberts 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 Roberts syndrome?
autosomal ; autosomal recessive ; cell ; cell division ; centromere ; chromatid ; chromosome ; cleft palate ; DNA ; gene ; hemangioma ; hypertelorism ; hypotrichosis ; joint ; kidney ; microcephaly ; micrognathia ; palate ; phocomelia ; protein ; recessive ; repulsion ; sister chromatid ; syndrome
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.