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Genetics Home Reference: your guide to understanding genetic conditions
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Werner syndrome

Reviewed December 2012

What is Werner syndrome?

Werner syndrome is characterized by the dramatic, rapid appearance of features associated with normal aging. Individuals with this disorder typically grow and develop normally until they reach puberty. Affected teenagers usually do not have a growth spurt, resulting in short stature. The characteristic aged appearance of individuals with Werner syndrome typically begins to develop when they are in their twenties and includes graying and loss of hair; a hoarse voice; and thin, hardened skin. They may also have a facial appearance described as "bird-like." Many people with Werner syndrome have thin arms and legs and a thick trunk due to abnormal fat deposition.

As Werner syndrome progresses, affected individuals may develop disorders of aging early in life, such as cloudy lenses (cataracts) in both eyes, skin ulcers, type 2 diabetes, diminished fertility, severe hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), thinning of the bones (osteoporosis), and some types of cancer. It is not uncommon for affected individuals to develop multiple, rare cancers during their lifetime. People with Werner syndrome usually live into their late forties or early fifties. The most common causes of death are cancer and atherosclerosis.

How common is Werner syndrome?

Werner syndrome is estimated to affect 1 in 200,000 individuals in the United States. This syndrome occurs more often in Japan, affecting 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 40,000 people.

What genes are related to Werner syndrome?

Mutations in the WRN gene cause Werner syndrome. The WRN gene provides instructions for producing the Werner protein, which is thought to perform several tasks related to the maintenance and repair of DNA. This protein also assists in the process of copying (replicating) DNA in preparation for cell division. Mutations in the WRN gene often lead to the production of an abnormally short, nonfunctional Werner protein. Research suggests that this shortened protein is not transported to the cell's nucleus, where it normally interacts with DNA. Evidence also suggests that the altered protein is broken down more quickly in the cell than the normal Werner protein. Researchers do not fully understand how WRN mutations cause the signs and symptoms of Werner syndrome. Cells with an altered Werner protein may divide more slowly or stop dividing earlier than normal, causing growth problems. Also, the altered protein may allow DNA damage to accumulate, which could impair normal cell activities and cause the health problems associated with this condition.

Related Gene(s)

Changes in this gene are associated with Werner syndrome.

  • WRN

How do people inherit Werner syndrome?

Werner syndrome is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern, which means both copies of the WRN gene in each cell have mutations. The parents of an individual with Werner syndrome 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 Werner syndrome?

These resources address the diagnosis or management of Werner syndrome and may include treatment providers.

  • Gene Review: Werner Syndrome (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK1514)
  • Genetic Testing Registry: Werner syndrome (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/gtr/conditions/C0043119)

You might also find information on the diagnosis or management of Werner syndrome in Educational resources (http://www.ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/werner-syndrome/show/Educational+resources) and Patient support (http://www.ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/werner-syndrome/show/Patient+support).

General information about the diagnosis (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/consult/diagnosis) and management (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/consult/treatment) of genetic conditions is available in the Handbook. Read more about genetic testing (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/testing), particularly the difference between clinical tests and research tests (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/testing/researchtesting).

To locate a healthcare provider, see How can I find a genetics professional in my area? (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/consult/findingprofessional) in the Handbook.

Where can I find additional information about Werner syndrome?

You may find the following resources about Werner 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 Werner syndrome?

  • Adult premature aging syndrome
  • Adult Progeria
  • Werner's Syndrome
  • Werners Syndrome
  • WS

For more information about naming genetic conditions, see the Genetics Home Reference Condition Naming Guidelines (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/ConditionNameGuide) and How are genetic conditions and genes named? (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/mutationsanddisorders/naming) in the Handbook.

What if I still have specific questions about Werner syndrome?

Ask the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (http://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/GARD/).

What glossary definitions help with understanding Werner syndrome?

arteries ; atherosclerosis ; autosomal ; autosomal recessive ; cancer ; cell ; cell division ; diabetes ; DNA ; DNA damage ; fertility ; gene ; inherited ; loss of hair ; nucleus ; osteoporosis ; protein ; puberty ; recessive ; short stature ; stature ; syndrome

You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary (http://www.ghr.nlm.nih.gov/glossary).

References

  • Gene Review: Werner Syndrome (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK1514)
  • Huang S, Lee L, Hanson NB, Lenaerts C, Hoehn H, Poot M, Rubin CD, Chen DF, Yang CC, Juch H, Dorn T, Spiegel R, Oral EA, Abid M, Battisti C, Lucci-Cordisco E, Neri G, Steed EH, Kidd A, Isley W, Showalter D, Vittone JL, Konstantinow A, Ring J, Meyer P, Wenger SL, von Herbay A, Wollina U, Schuelke M, Huizenga CR, Leistritz DF, Martin GM, Mian IS, Oshima J. The spectrum of WRN mutations in Werner syndrome patients. Hum Mutat. 2006 Jun;27(6):558-67. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16673358?dopt=Abstract)
  • Kudlow BA, Kennedy BK, Monnat RJ Jr. Werner and Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndromes: mechanistic basis of human progeroid diseases. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2007 May;8(5):394-404. Review. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17450177?dopt=Abstract)
  • Lee JW, Harrigan J, Opresko PL, Bohr VA. Pathways and functions of the Werner syndrome protein. Mech Ageing Dev. 2005 Jan;126(1):79-86. Review. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15610765?dopt=Abstract)
  • Monnat RJ Jr, Saintigny Y. Werner syndrome protein--unwinding function to explain disease. Sci Aging Knowledge Environ. 2004 Mar 31;2004(13):re3. Review. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15056797?dopt=Abstract)
  • Opresko PL, Calvo JP, von Kobbe C. Role for the Werner syndrome protein in the promotion of tumor cell growth. Mech Ageing Dev. 2007 Jul-Aug;128(7-8):423-36. Epub 2007 May 31. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17624410?dopt=Abstract)
  • Opresko PL, Cheng WH, von Kobbe C, Harrigan JA, Bohr VA. Werner syndrome and the function of the Werner protein; what they can teach us about the molecular aging process. Carcinogenesis. 2003 May;24(5):791-802. Review. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12771022?dopt=Abstract)
  • Puzianowska-Kuznicka M, Kuznicki J. Genetic alterations in accelerated ageing syndromes. Do they play a role in natural ageing? Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2005 May;37(5):947-60. Epub 2004 Dec 15. Review. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15743670?dopt=Abstract)

 

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? (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/consult/findingprofessional) in the Handbook.

 
Reviewed: December 2012
Published: December 16, 2014