Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome (“Progeria”, or “HGPS”) is a rare, fatal genetic condition characterized by an appearance of accelerated aging in children. Its name is derived from the Greek and means “prematurely old.” While there are different forms of Progeria*, the classic type is Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome, which was named after the doctors who first described it in England; in 1886 by Dr. Jonathan Hutchinson and in 1897 by Dr. Hastings Gilford.
HGPS is caused by a mutation in the gene called LMNA (pronounced, lamin – a). The LMNA gene produces the Lamin A protein, which is the structural scaffolding that holds the nucleus of a cell together. Researchers now believe that the defective Lamin A protein makes the nucleus unstable. That cellular instability appears to lead to the process of premature aging in Progeria.
Although they are born looking healthy, children with Progeria begin to display many characteristics of accelerated aging within the first two years of life. Progeria signs include growth failure, loss of body fat and hair, aged-looking skin, stiffness of joints, hip dislocation, generalized atherosclerosis, cardiovascular (heart) disease and stroke. The children have a remarkably similar appearance, despite differing ethnic backgrounds. Without treatment, children with Progeria die of atherosclerosis (heart disease) at an average age of 14.5 years.
* Other progeroid syndromes include Werner’s syndrome, also known as “adult progeria” which does not have an onset until the late teen years, with a life span into the 40’s and 50’s.