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Arch Neurol. 1991 Dec;48(12):1285-93.

Hallervorden-Spatz syndrome and brain iron metabolism.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis.


Aberrant iron metabolism in the brain is typified by Hallervorden-Spatz syndrome. In this disorder, large amounts of iron are deposited in the globus pallidus and the pars reticulata of the substantia nigra. It is characterized by extrapyramidal dysfunction, as demonstrated by dystonia, rigidity, and choreoathetosis; onset during the first two decades of life; and progression of signs and symptoms. Corroborative findings include corticospinal tract involvement, ie, spasticity and extensor toe signs, progressive intellectual impairment, retinitis pigmentosa and optic atrophy (usually associated visual evoked response and electroretinogram abnormalities), seizures, familial occurrence, hypointense areas in the basal ganglia on magnetic resonance imaging scans (particularly in the substantia nigra), abnormal cytosomes in circulating lymphocytes, and sea-blue histiocytes in bone marrow. Iron function in normal brain metabolism is manifold, but high concentrations of iron in the basal ganglia area may signal a unique relationship. Data support the likelihood that iron plays a role in the modulation of dopamine binding to postsynaptic receptors. In addition, transferrin receptors and iron are also concentrated in oligodendrocytes in normal brain and, thus, may have a function in myelination. A role of iron also seems likely in oxidation and peroxidation reactions involving membranes and DNA, a capability that becomes uncontrolled when protective biologic mechanisms become inadequate.

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