What is LINCL-Batten disease?

Batten disease is named after the British pediatrician who first described it in 1903. Also known as Spielmeyer-Vogt-Sjogren-Batten disease, it is the most common form of a group of disorders called Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (or NCLs). Although Batten disease is usually regarded as the juvenile form of NCL, it has now become the term to encompass all forms of NCL. The forms of NCL are classified by age of onset and have the same basic cause, progression and outcome. However, the forms of NCL are all genetically different.

Over time, affected children suffer mental impairment, worsening seizures, and progressive loss of sight and motor skills. Eventually, children with Batten disease/NCL become blind, bedridden, and unable to communicate. Presently, it is always fatal.

Batten disease is not contagious or, at this time, preventable.

What are the forms of Batten disease/NCL?

There are four main types of NCL, including two forms that begin earlier in childhood and a very rare form that strikes adults. The symptoms are similar but they become apparent at different ages and progress at different rates.

Infantile NCL (Santavuori-Haltia disease) begins between about 6 months and 2 years of age and progresses rapidly. Affected children fail to thrive and have abnormally small heads (microcephaly). Also typical are short, sharp muscle contractions called myoclonic jerks. Initial signs of this disorder include delayed psychomotor development with progressive deterioration, other motor disorders, or seizures. The infantile form has the most rapid progression and children live into their mid-childhood years.

Late Infantile NCL (Jansky-Bielschowsky disease or LINCL-Batten disease) begins between ages 2 and 4. The typical early signs are loss of muscle coordination (ataxia) and seizures, along with progressive mental deterioration. This form progresses rapidly and ends in death between ages 8 and 12. This is the disease Noah and Laine are fighting.

Juvenile NCL (Batten disease) begins between the ages of 5 and 8. The typical early signs are progressive vision loss, seizures, ataxia, or clumsiness. This form progresses less rapidly and ends in death in the late teens or early 20s, although some may live into their 30s.

Adult NCL (Kufs Disease or Parry's Disease) generally begins before the age of 40, causes milder symptoms that progress slowly, and does not cause blindness. Although age of death is variable among affected individuals, this form does shorten life expectancy.

How many people have these disorders?

Batten disease/NCL is relatively rare, occurring in an estimated 2 to 4 of every 100,000 births in the United States. The diseases have been identified worldwide. Although NCLs are classified as rare diseases, they often strike more than one person in families that carry the defective gene.