Is cerebral palsy genetic?

I honestly knew very very little about CP.  After a couple hours of reading this morning, I would shave a micron off the “v” in one of those verys.

The causes are numerous, from prenatal infections to exposure to methyl mercury to preterm birth.  I was a little  surprised to learn that it isn’t rare, occurring in just over in 1 in 500 births. The causes look mostly non-genetic to me, but of courses genetics affects everything.

Several research papers, some free like this one show that having a specific variant of the APOE gene correlates with increased severity of CP.  Interestingly, that same variant increases your chance for Alzheimer’s disease very dramatically (see here).  This gene variant doesn’t appear to cause CP, only to make it’s pathology more severe.  The ApoE protein is involved in moving fat-soluble vitamins, cholesterol and lipo-proteins around in the body, activities that are important for keeping neurons alive and happy.  The ApoE4 version of the protein doesn’t do a great job at this ( it appears to bind these things too tightly (here) but this is one paper and I don’t know jack about this area).

Several genetic diseases of metabolism might masquerade as CP.  This paper describes over 54 genetic diseases with CP-like symptoms, most of which were treatable to some degree.  Some of these had to be treated since birth, others get better with treatment even later in life.  These genetic diseases are rare, some based on the report of one patient.

Using Google to look up genetic diseases in that paper I found this incredible site which just happens to be put out by the authors of that paper.  The site is focused on treatable genetic diseases that cause intellectual disability.  Yet more evidence against  intelligent design.


Leach EL, Shevell M, Bowden K, Stockler-Ipsiroglu S, van Karnebeek CD. Treatable inborn errors of metabolism presenting as cerebral palsy mimics: systematic literature review. Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases. 2014;9:197. doi:10.1186/s13023-014-0197-2.
LIEN E, ANDERSEN GL, BAO Y, et al. Apolipoprotein E polymorphisms and severity of cerebral palsy: a cross-sectional study in 255 children in Norway. Developmental medicine and child neurology. 2013;55(4):372-377. doi:10.1111/dmcn.12086.

About SubOptimist

I am an Associate Professor in the Science Department at Georgia Perimeter College, Clarkston. I teach introductory biology courses at both the majors and non-majors level in addition to microbiology. Previous to that I spent 7 years as a postdoctoral researcher on different viruses. While I don't miss being on the "grant treadmill", I think better when I write and miss writing up data for papers and grants; this blog helps me with that a little. And sometimes my kids' insanely funny and cute antics need to be shared with the world. Any view expressed in this blog is that of me personally and not Georgia Perimeter College or the GPC Clarkston Science Department.
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