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Tay-Sachs Disease and Sandhoff Disease


Matt Demczko

, MD, Mitochondrial Medicine, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Reviewed/Revised Dec 2021 | Modified Sep 2022
  • Tay-Sachs disease and Sandhoff disease occur when the body lacks enzymes needed to break down gangliosides.

  • Symptoms include intellectual disability and blindness.

  • The diagnosis may be made by prenatal screening tests.

  • These diseases cause premature death.

  • These diseases cannot be treated or cured.

Sphingolipidoses occur when people do not have the enzymes needed to break down (metabolize) sphingolipids, which are compounds that protect the cell surface and serve certain functions in the cells. There are many other types of sphingolipidoses:

In Tay-Sachs disease and Sandhoff disease, gangliosides, which are products of fat metabolism, accumulate in brain tissue. Gangliosides build up in affected children because the enzyme needed to break down gangliosides, called hexosaminidase A, is not working correctly.

Tay-Sachs disease

This disease is most common among families of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish origin.

Children with this disease start missing developmental milestones Developmental Milestones From Birth to Age 12 Months* Developmental Milestones From Birth to Age 12 Months* after 6 months of age and become progressively intellectually disabled, meaning that intellectual disability Intellectual Disability Intellectual disability is significantly below average intellectual functioning present from birth or early infancy, causing limitations in the ability to conduct normal activities of daily... read more gets worse throughout the life of the child, and appear to have floppy muscle tone. Muscle tightness and stiffness develop, followed by paralysis, dementia, and blindness. These children usually die by age 5.

Before conception, parents can find out whether they are carriers of the gene that causes the disease. Carriers Genetic Carrier Screening Genetic disorders are caused by abnormalities in one or more genes or chromosomes. Some genetic disorders are hereditary and others are spontaneous. Hereditary genetic disorders are passed down... read more are people who have an abnormal gene for a disorder but who do not have symptoms or visible evidence of the disorder. People who carry the gene should receive genetic counseling because there is a risk they will pass the disorder on to their children. The disease develops when both parents are carriers.

The disease cannot be treated or cured.

Sandhoff disease

This disease is very similar to Tay-Sachs disease. However, unlike Tay-Sachs disease, Sandhoff disease is not associated with any specific ethnicities.

Beginning at 6 months of age, children become progressively intellectually disabled and blindness develops. Sounds may seem abnormally loud (a condition called hyperacusis). Children also have an enlarged liver and bone problems.

Diagnosis of Sandhoff disease is the same as for Tay-Sachs disease.

The disease cannot be treated or cured.

More Information

The following are some English-language resources that may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of these resources.

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