Werner syndrome is a rare genetic condition that causes accelerated aging. Affected individuals usually display normal growth and development during childhood but then lack a normal growth spurt at puberty. As a result, they are typically short in height. Those with the condition also typically have unique facial features that include a beaked nose and prominent eyes.
Individuals with Werner syndrome usually notice the first signs of rapid aging during their twenties. These first symptoms may include graying or loss of hair, a hoarse voice, and the development of thinner, rougher skin. In the individual’s thirties, more advanced signs of aging will likely begin. These include cloudy eye lenses (cataracts), sores or open wounds on the skin (ulcers), type II diabetes, thinning of bones (osteoporosis), various types of cancer, and a decrease or loss of fertility and other genital functioning (hypogonadism). Most affected individuals pass away in their late forties to early fifties from conditions such as cancer and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
There is a specific gene, called "WRN," that is associated with this condition. A functional WRN gene instructs the body to produce a protein that is responsible for protecting a person’s DNA from damage and keeping the DNA in its proper shape. If the WRN gene is changed (mutated), the individual’s DNA becomes more prone to damage and leads to the various physical signs of Werner syndrome. This condition is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern, which means a person must have a mutation in both copies of their WRN gene in order to develop the condition. Contacting a genetic counselor or specialist may be helpful to further explain the genetics and inheritance pattern of this condition.
Unfortunately there is no cure for Werner syndrome at this time. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Werner syndrome, contact your doctor to discuss current treatment options.