Alpers' disease

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [2]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Zehra Malik, M.B.B.S[3]

Synonyms and keywords: Alpers-Huttenlocher Syndrome, Progressive Infantile Poliodystrophy, Mitochondrial Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) depletion syndrome-4A


Alpers' disease is an autosomal recessive genetic syndrome characterized by seizures, hepatopathy, and progressive cognitive impairment. It is caused by mutation in the POLG gene resulting in mitochondrial DNA depletion.

Historical Perspective

  • Alpers disease was first described by a North-American neurologist named, Bernard Jacob Alpers in 1931.[1]
  • In 1970, Peter Richard Huttenlocher a pediatric neurologist and neuroscientist described more phenotypic features associated with the disease. [2]
  • Alpers disease is also refered as Alpers–Huttenlocher syndrome.


  • There is no established system for the classification of Alpers disease.



Differentiating Alpers disease from other Diseases

Epidemiology and Demographics

  • The prevalence of Alpers disease is approximately 1 per 100,000 individuals worldwide.
  • Alpers disease affects men and women equally.
  • Higher carrier frequency is seen in the Northern European population.[5] Although, it is seen in other ethnic groups as well.

Risk Factors

  • There are no established risk factors for Alpers disease.


  • There is insufficient evidence to recommend routine screening for Alpers disease.

Natural History, Complications, and Prognosis


Diagnostic Study of Choice

  • There are no established criteria for the diagnosis of Alpers disease. However, it usually manifests with a triad consist of refractory seizures, hepatopathy, and psychomotor regression.
  • The diagnosis is established by testing for the POLG gene.[4]

History and Symptoms

Physical Examination

  • Common physical examination findings of Alpers disease include spasticity, ataxia, altered muscle tone.
  • Other physical findings include poor growth, developmental delay, failure to thrive, and/or vision changes.

Laboratory Findings

  • There are no diagnostic laboratory findings associated with Alpers disease.
  • However CSF lactate may be elevated in some cases due to respiratory chain disorder.[11]


  • There are no ECG findings associated with Alpers disease. However, cardiomyopathy may be one of the possible complications of Alpers disease.[12]


  • There are no x-ray findings associated with Alpers disease.

Echocardiography or Ultrasound

CT scan


Other Imaging Findings

  • In areas of high diffusion signal, MR spectroscopy may show increased lactate signal intensity and decreased NAA signal intensity.[16]

Other Diagnostic Studies

  • Rhythmic high-amplitude delta with superimposed (poly)spikes(RHADS) on EEG are reported to be highly specific of Alpers disease.[17]
  • Other EEG finding includes abnormal, often assymetrical flash visual evoked potential (VEP).


Medical Therapy

  • There is no treatment for Alpers disease and no way to slow its progression; the mainstay of therapy is supportive and palliative care, achieved by a multidisciplinary care team.
  • Seizure management should be achieved by with drugs with newer generation drugs(lamotrigine, primidone, topiramate, oxcarbazepine) with low hepatic impact.
  • Valproic acid should be avoided for seizure management as it can worsen liver disease.[18]
  • Physical therapy may help relieve spasticity.
  • Occupational/speech therapies may also help with neurological deficits.
  • Tracheostomy, gastric feeding tube, and/or artificial ventilation may be helpful once the disease progresses.[19]


  • Surgical intervention is not recommended for the management of Alpers disease.

Primary Prevention

Secondary Prevention


  1. Alpers, Bernard J. (1931). "DIFFUSE PROGRESSIVE DEGENERATION OF THE GRAY MATTER OF THE CEREBRUM". Archives of Neurology And Psychiatry. 25 (3): 469. doi:10.1001/archneurpsyc.1931.02230030027002. ISSN 0096-6754.
  2. Huttenlocher, P. R.; Solitare, G. B.; Adams, G. (1976). "Infantile Diffuse Cerebral Degeneration With Hepatic Cirrhosis". Archives of Neurology. 33 (3): 186–192. doi:10.1001/archneur.1976.00500030042009. ISSN 0003-9942.
  3. Copeland WC (2012). "Defects in mitochondrial DNA replication and human disease". Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. 47 (1): 64–74. doi:10.3109/10409238.2011.632763. PMC 3244805. PMID 22176657.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Saneto, Russell P.; Cohen, Bruce H.; Copeland, William C.; Naviaux, Robert K. (2013). "Alpers-Huttenlocher Syndrome". Pediatric Neurology. 48 (3): 167–178. doi:10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2012.09.014. ISSN 0887-8994.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Saneto RP, Cohen BH, Copeland WC, Naviaux RK (2013). "Alpers-Huttenlocher syndrome". Pediatr Neurol. 48 (3): 167–78. doi:10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2012.09.014. PMC 3578656. PMID [1] 23419467]] Check |pmid= value (help).
  6. Qian Y, Ziehr JL, Johnson KA (2015). "Alpers disease mutations in human DNA polymerase gamma cause catalytic defects in mitochondrial DNA replication by distinct mechanisms". Front Genet. 6: 135. doi:10.3389/fgene.2015.00135. PMC 4391263. PMID 25914719.
  7. Adam MP, Ardinger HH, Pagon RA, Wallace SE, Bean LJH, Stephens K; et al. (1993). "GeneReviews®". PMID 20301791.
  8. Wong LJ, Naviaux RK, Brunetti-Pierri N, Zhang Q, Schmitt ES, Truong C; et al. (2008). "Molecular and clinical genetics of mitochondrial diseases due to POLG mutations". Hum Mutat. 29 (9): E150–72. doi:10.1002/humu.20824. PMC 2891192. PMID 18546365.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Saneto RP (2016). "Alpers-Huttenlocher syndrome: the role of a multidisciplinary health care team". J Multidiscip Healthc. 9: 323–33. doi:10.2147/JMDH.S84900. PMC 4968991. PMID 27555780.
  10. Hayhurst, Hannah; Anagnostou, Maria‐Eleni; Bogle, Helen J.; Grady, John P.; Taylor, Robert W.; Bindoff, Laurence A.; McFarland, Robert; Turnbull, Doug M.; Lax, Nichola Z. (2018). "Dissecting the neuronal vulnerability underpinning Alpers' syndrome: a clinical and neuropathological study". Brain Pathology. 29 (1): 97–113. doi:10.1111/bpa.12640. ISSN 1015-6305.
  11. Wolf, Nicole I.; Rahman, Shamima; Schmitt, Bernhard; Taanman, Jan-Willem; Duncan, Andrew J.; Harting, Inga; Wohlrab, Gabriele; Ebinger, Friedrich; Rating, Dietz; Bast, Thomas (2009). "Status epilepticus in children with Alpers' disease caused byPOLG1mutations: EEG and MRI features". Epilepsia. 50 (6): 1596–1607. doi:10.1111/j.1528-1167.2008.01877.x. ISSN 0013-9580.
  12. Holmgren, D (2003). "Cardiomyopathy in children with mitochondrial disease Clinical course and cardiological findings". European Heart Journal. 24 (3): 280–288. doi:10.1016/S0195-668X(02)00387-1. ISSN 0195-668X.
  13. Engelsen, B. A.; Tzoulis, C.; Karlsen, B.; Lillebo, A.; Laegreid, L. M.; Aasly, J.; Zeviani, M.; Bindoff, L. A. (2008). "POLG1 mutations cause a syndromic epilepsy with occipital lobe predilection". Brain. 131 (3): 818–828. doi:10.1093/brain/awn007. ISSN 0006-8950.
  14. Hikmat, Omar; Eichele, Tom; Tzoulis, Charalampos; Bindoff, Laurence (2017). "Understanding the Epilepsy in POLG Related Disease". International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 18 (9): 1845. doi:10.3390/ijms18091845. ISSN 1422-0067.
  15. Tzoulis, C. (2006). "The spectrum of clinical disease caused by the A467T and W748S POLG mutations: a study of 26 cases". Brain. 129 (7): 1685–1692. doi:10.1093/brain/awl097. ISSN 0006-8950.
  16. Flemming K, Ulmer S, Duisberg B, Hahn A, Jansen O (2002). "MR spectroscopic findings in a case of Alpers-Huttenlocher syndrome". AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 23 (8): 1421–3. PMID 12223390.
  17. van Westrhenen, Anouk; Cats, Elisabeth A.; van den Munckhof, Bart; van der Salm, Sandra M.A.; Teunissen, Nico W.; Ferrier, Cyrille H.; Leijten, Frans S.S.; Geleijns, Karin P.W. (2018). "Specific EEG markers in POLG1 Alpers' syndrome". Clinical Neurophysiology. 129 (10): 2127–2131. doi:10.1016/j.clinph.2018.07.016. ISSN 1388-2457.
  18. Saneto RP, Cohen BH, Copeland WC, Naviaux RK (2013). "Alpers-Huttenlocher syndrome". Pediatr Neurol. 48 (3): 167–78. doi:10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2012.09.014. PMC 3578656. PMID 23419467.
  19. Giordano C, Sebastiani M, De Giorgio R, Travaglini C, Tancredi A, Valentino ML; et al. (2008). "Gastrointestinal dysmotility in mitochondrial neurogastrointestinal encephalomyopathy is caused by mitochondrial DNA depletion". Am J Pathol. 173 (4): 1120–8. doi:10.2353/ajpath.2008.080252. PMC 2543079. PMID 18787099.

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