1 Department of Medicine, Surgery and Dentistry, University of Milan, Italy
2 National Cancer Institute, Milan, Italy
3 Department of Biology for Medical Sciences, University of Milan, Italy
Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases 2010, 5:2 doi:10.1186/1750-1172-5-2Published: 29 January 2010
Rothmund-Thomson syndrome (RTS) is a genodermatosis presenting with a characteristic facial rash (poikiloderma) associated with short stature, sparse scalp hair, sparse or absent eyelashes and/or eyebrows, juvenile cataracts, skeletal abnormalities, radial ray defects, premature aging and a predisposition to cancer. The prevalence is unknown but around 300 cases have been reported in the literature so far. The diagnostic hallmark is facial erythema, which spreads to the extremities but spares the trunk, and which manifests itself within the first year and then develops into poikiloderma. Two clinical subforms of RTS have been defined: RTSI characterised by poikiloderma, ectodermal dysplasia and juvenile cataracts, and RTSII characterised by poikiloderma, congenital bone defects and an increased risk of osteosarcoma in childhood and skin cancer later in life. The skeletal abnormalities may be overt (frontal bossing, saddle nose and congenital radial ray defects), and/or subtle (visible only by radiographic analysis). Gastrointestinal, respiratory and haematological signs have been reported in a few patients. RTS is transmitted in an autosomal recessive manner and is genetically heterogeneous: RTSII is caused by homozygous or compound heterozygous mutations in the RECQL4 helicase gene (detected in 60-65% of RTS patients), whereas the aetiology in RTSI remains unknown. Diagnosis is based on clinical findings (primarily on the age of onset, spreading and appearance of the poikiloderma) and molecular analysis for RECQL4 mutations. Missense mutations are rare, while frameshift, nonsense mutations and splice-site mutations prevail. A fully informative test requires transcript analysis not to overlook intronic deletions causing missplicing. The diagnosis of RTS should be considered in all patients with osteosarcoma, particularly if associated with skin changes. The differential diagnosis should include other causes of childhood poikiloderma (including dyskeratosis congenita, Kindler syndrome and Poikiloderma with Neutropaenia), other rare genodermatoses with prominent telangiectasias (including Bloom syndrome, Werner syndrome and Ataxia-telangiectasia) and the allelic disorders, RAPADILINO syndrome and Baller-Gerold syndrome, which also share some clinical features. A few mutations recur in all three RECQL4 diseases. Genetic counselling should be provided for RTS patients and their families, together with a recommendation for cancer surveillance for all patients with RTSII. Patients should be managed by a multidisciplinary team and offered long term follow-up. Treatment includes the use of pulsed dye laser photocoagulation to improve the telangiectatic component of the rash, surgical removal of the cataracts and standard treatment for individuals who develop cancer. Although some clinical signs suggest precocious aging, life expectancy is not impaired in RTS patients if they do not develop cancer. Outcomes in patients with osteosarcoma are similar in RTS and non-RTS patients, with a five-year survival rate of 60-70%. The sensitivity of RTS cells to genotoxic agents exploiting cells with a known RECQL4 status is being elucidated and is aimed at optimizing the chemotherapeutic regimen for osteosarcoma.