Medical Genetics Branch, National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health, Building 35/Room 1B-207, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA
Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases 2011, 6:56 doi:10.1186/1750-1172-6-56Published: 16 August 2011
VACTERL/VATER association is typically defined by the presence of at least three of the following congenital malformations: vertebral defects, anal atresia, cardiac defects, tracheo-esophageal fistula, renal anomalies, and limb abnormalities. In addition to these core component features, patients may also have other congenital anomalies. Although diagnostic criteria vary, the incidence is estimated at approximately 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 40,000 live-born infants. The condition is ascertained clinically by the presence of the above-mentioned malformations; importantly, there should be no clinical or laboratory-based evidence for the presence of one of the many similar conditions, as the differential diagnosis is relatively large. This differential diagnosis includes (but is not limited to) Baller-Gerold syndrome, CHARGE syndrome, Currarino syndrome, deletion 22q11.2 syndrome, Fanconi anemia, Feingold syndrome, Fryns syndrome, MURCS association, oculo-auriculo-vertebral syndrome, Opitz G/BBB syndrome, Pallister-Hall syndrome, Townes-Brocks syndrome, and VACTERL with hydrocephalus. Though there are hints regarding causation, the aetiology has been identified only in a small fraction of patients to date, likely due to factors such as a high degree of clinical and causal heterogeneity, the largely sporadic nature of the disorder, and the presence of many similar conditions. New genetic research methods offer promise that the causes of VACTERL association will be better defined in the relatively near future. Antenatal diagnosis can be challenging, as certain component features can be difficult to ascertain prior to birth. The management of patients with VACTERL/VATER association typically centers around surgical correction of the specific congenital anomalies (typically anal atresia, certain types of cardiac malformations, and/or tracheo-esophageal fistula) in the immediate postnatal period, followed by long-term medical management of sequelae of the congenital malformations. If optimal surgical correction is achievable, the prognosis can be relatively positive, though some patients will continue to be affected by their congenital malformations throughout life. Importantly, patients with VACTERL association do not tend to have neurocognitive impairment.