New keys to the causes of cerebral palsy discovered

Wednesday, 16 November 2005

University of Adelaide researchers have found a link between congenital clotting disorders and cerebral palsy.

Minute amounts of stored blood samples from healthy babies and those with cerebral palsy were tested using molecular biological tests adapted by Catherine Gibson as part of her work towards a PhD supervised by Professor Alastair MacLennan and Professor Gus Dekker at the University of Adelaide and Dr Paul Goldwater at the Adelaide Women's and Children's Hospital.

Thrombophilias (blood clotting disorders) have been isolated as factors associated with an increased risk of cerebral palsy in studies carried out by the South Australian Cerebral Palsy Research Group (SACPRG) and published this month in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The University of Adelaide's Professor Alastair MacLennan as leader of SACPRG, affiliated with the Women's and Children's Hospital said, "This is the first large case-control study of Cerebral Palsy and hereditary thrombophilias. We now have evidence that certain hereditary clotting disorders appear to increase the risk of cerebral palsy.

"We were able to monitor this across gestational ages, and it was noted that there was a higher prevalence of Cerebral Palsy in babies with gene mutations for any of three different thrombophilias, who were born prematurely. A five-fold increase in quadriplegic cerebral palsy was found at all gestational ages when two of the hereditary clotting disorders occurred together.

"We have also found that some intrauterine infections and hereditary susceptibility to infection may be contributing factors to cerebral palsy."

This work is to be published soon and was recently presented at scientific meetings both in Australia and in the USA.

"These factors may start an irreversible destruction process in parts of the fetal or neonatal brain that control posture and movement. The first signs of this problem may sometimes present as 'fetal distress' at birth, however, this is often misidentified as the 'cause' of cerebral palsy, rather than as a symptom.

"Efforts to speed up delivery in these circumstances have yet to be shown to reduce cerebral palsy rates, possibly because the destructive process is already established."

Cerebral palsy is a common (one in 400 births) disorder of movement with posture impairment, which has previously been assumed to result from low oxygen levels encountered during the birth of the baby.


Contact Details

Emeritus Professor Alastair MacLennan
Head, Cerebral Palsy Research Group, Robinson Research Institute
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 1337
Mobile: +61 (0)400 383 144

Dr Catherine Gibson
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Cerebral Palsy Group
Robinson Institute
The University of Adelaide
Business: + 61 8 8161 7616 (Thursdays only)
Mobile: 0417 849 718

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762