What genes are related to Stargardt macular degeneration?
In most cases, Stargardt macular degeneration is caused by mutations in the ABCA4 gene. Less often, mutations in the ELOVL4 gene cause this condition. The ABCA4 and ELOVL4 genes provide instructions for making proteins that are found in light-sensing (photoreceptor) cells in the retina.
The ABCA4 protein transports potentially toxic substances out of photoreceptor cells. These substances form after phototransduction, the process by which light entering the eye is converted into electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain. Mutations in the ABCA4 gene prevent the ABCA4 protein from removing toxic byproducts from photoreceptor cells. These toxic substances build up and form lipofuscin in the photoreceptor cells and the surrounding cells of the retina, eventually causing cell death. Loss of cells in the retina causes the progressive vision loss characteristic of Stargardt macular degeneration.
The ELOVL4 protein plays a role in making a group of fats called very long-chain fatty acids. The ELOVL4 protein is primarily active (expressed) in the retina, but is also expressed in the brain and skin. The function of very long-chain fatty acids within the retina is unknown. Mutations in theELOVL4 gene lead to the formation of ELOVL4 protein clumps (aggregates) that build up and may interfere with retinal cell functions, ultimately leading to cell death.
How do people inherit Stargardt macular degeneration?
Stargardt macular degeneration can have different inheritance patterns.
When mutations in the ABCA4 gene cause this condition, it 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.
When this condition is caused by mutations in the ELOVL4 gene, it is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means one copy of the altered gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the disorder.