Canavan Disease

What is Canavan Disease?

Canavan disease is an inherited disorder that destroys the myelin sheath, the white matter that insulates nerve cells in the brain. It causes overall muscle weakness and developmental delay leading to severe mental disability. Symptoms usually begin at 3 to 5 months of age with poor muscle tone (hypotonia), which causes problems turning over, controlling head movements, and sitting up. The infant’s head also becomes rapidly larger. Over time, people with the condition become unable to swallow and develop sleep disturbances, seizures, and blindness. Most people with Canavan disease die in childhood, although some have lived into their teens and early twenties.

Canavan disease is caused by a deficiency in an enzyme called aspartoacylase. This enzyme breaks down a material called N-acetyl-L-aspartic acid (NAA) in the brain. Without enough enzyme, the NAA builds up in the brain and destroys its white matter.

How Common is Canavan Disease?

The prevalence of Canavan disease in the general population is unknown. Among people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, the disease affects approximately 1 in 6,400 to 13,500 people, making 1 in every 40 to 58 Ashkenazi Jews a carrier.

How is Canavan Disease Treated?

At this time, there is no cure for Canavan disease. Treatment focuses on keeping the affected person comfortable with proper nutrition and hydration and controlling seizures with medication.

What is the prognosis for a person with Canavan Disease?

Most people with Canavan disease die in childhood, although some survive into their teens or early twenties. In childhood they become severely mentally disabled and lose muscle control.

  • Canavan Foundation
    A non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness of Canavan disease and encouraging prevention through genetic testing.

    450 West End Avenue #10C
    New York, NY 10024
    Phone: (212) 873-4640
    Secondary Phone: (877) 4-CANAVAN
    [email protected]
  • Canavan Research Foundation
    A foundation, started by parents of a child with Canavan disease, which advocates for and funds gene therapy for the disease.

    88 Route 37
    New Fairfield, CT 06812
    Phone: (203) 746-2436
    [email protected]
  • Genetics Home Reference
    Explanations of an extensive number of genetic diseases written for everyday people by the U.S. government’s National Institutes of Health.


  • Cure Canavan Fund
    Cure Canavan Fund is a non-profit foundation dedicated to supporting research aimed at the treatment/cure of Canavan disease.

    2920 Ave R
    Suite 327
    Brooklyn, NY 11229
    Phone: (929) 324-0991
  • National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association
    A non-profit dedicated to the treatment and prevention of Tay-Sachs and related genetic diseases. Its website has many types of information as well as online message boards.

    2001 Beacon St. Suite 204
    Boston, MA 02135
    Phone: (800) 906-8723
    [email protected]
 Other Names for Canavan Disease
  • Canavan Disease
  • Canavan-Van Bogaert-Bertrand Disease
  • ACY2 Deficiency
  • Spongy Degeneration of Central Nervous System
  • Aminoacylase 2 Deficiency
  • Aspa Deficiency
  • Asp Deficiency
  • Aspartoacylase Deficiency
  • Spongiform Leukodystrophy
  • Van Bogaert-Bertrand Syndrome
  • Spongy Degeneration of White Matter in Infancy


Take action now to assess your risk for Canavan disease and your risk for passing it to your children. To get started with a JScreen genetic test, click here.

Source: Counsyl.