2 minute read

Birth Defects

Chromosome Disorders

Humans normally have twenty-two pairs of autosomes and two sex chromosomes, XX or XY, making forty-six chromosomes in total. Chromosomal abnormalities occur in about 0.5 percent of all live births and are usually due to an abnormal number of chromosomes. These are nearly always an addition or deletion of a single autosome or sex chromosome in a pair. One extra copy of a chromosome is called a trisomy, while one missing copy of a chromosome is called a monosomy. Sometimes only a segment of a chromosome is duplicated or lost.

Chromosomal disorders are diagnosed by karyotype analysis and can be done on adults by testing blood, skin, or other tissue. Karyotypes can also be performed on a fetus through specialized testing such as amniocentesis. Prenatal maternal blood tests are routinely used to screen for some trisomies, though accurate diagnosis requires fetal karyotyping.

Chromosomal abnormalities can occur in offspring of mothers of all ages, but the frequencies of these disorders increase with maternal age, rising exponentially after the maternal age of thirty-five. Advanced paternal age has far less impact. Chromosomal abnormalities can result in either physical or functional birth defects. The severity of these birth defects is highly variable and depends upon the exact chromosome problem.

Chromosomal defects include such problems as Down syndrome, Kline-felter's syndrome, and Turner's syndrome. The majority of Down syndrome cases are due to an extra chromosome 21. Trisomy 21 usually occurs as an isolated event within a family. It results in characteristic facial features, lax muscle tone, cardiac and intestinal anomalies, and mild or moderate mental retardation. Additional medical complications may also include recurrent ear and respiratory tract infections, vision problems, hearing difficulties, and short stature.

Klinefelter's syndrome is a sex chromosome abnormality that occurs in 1 of 600 males, with a karyotype of 47. Individuals with Klinefelter's syndrome possess an extra X chromosome: XXY. Clinical characteristics are variable and include some learning and developmental disabilities, hypogonadism, small testes, and gynecomastia occuring in puberty. The condition can be managed by administering testosterone supplements beginning in adolescence. As with some other sex chromosome abnormalities, adults with Klinefelter's syndrome are usually infertile.

Turner's syndrome is another sex chromosome disorder, with a karyotype of 45. In this condition, one X chromosome is missing. Turner's syndrome occurs in one out of 4,000 live births. Most females with Turner's syndrome are short and have webbing of the neck, a broad chest, and a lack of ovarian development, with a consequent lack of pubertal development and infertility. Female hormone therapy is often used to induce breast development and menstruation. The majority of conceptions resulting in a fetus with this condition end in a miscarriage, as Turner's syndrome is highly lethal in early fetal development.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 1Birth Defects - Various Causes, Various Treatments, Single-gene Mutations, Autosomal Dominant Disorders, Functional Birth Defects