Wolcott-Rallison syndrome (WRS) is a rare autosomal recessive disease, characterized by neonatal/early-onset non-autoimmune insulin-requiring diabetes associated with skeletal dysplasia and growth retardation. Fewer than 60 cases have been described in the literature, although WRS is now recognised as the most frequent cause of neonatal/early-onset diabetes in patients with consanguineous parents. Typically, diabetes occurs before six months of age, and skeletal dysplasia is diagnosed within the first year or two of life. Other manifestations vary between patients in their nature and severity and include frequent episodes of acute liver failure, renal dysfunction, exocrine pancreas insufficiency, intellectual deficit, hypothyroidism, neutropenia and recurrent infections. Bone fractures may be frequent. WRS is caused by mutations in the gene encoding eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2[alpha] kinase 3 (EIF2AK3), also known as PKR-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK). PERK is an endoplasmic reticulum (ER) transmembrane protein, which plays a key role in translation control during the unfolded protein response. ER dysfunction is central to the disease processes. The disease variability appears to be independent of the nature of the EIF2AK3 mutations, with the possible exception of an older age at onset; other factors may include other genes, exposure to environmental factors and disease management. WRS should be suspected in any infant who presents with permanent neonatal diabetes associated with skeletal dysplasia and/or episodes of acute liver failure. Molecular genetic testing confirms the diagnosis. Early diagnosis is recommended, in order to ensure rapid intervention for episodes of hepatic failure, which is the most life threatening complication. WRS should be differentiated from other forms of neonatal/early-onset insulin-dependent diabetes based on clinical presentation and genetic testing. Genetic counselling and antenatal diagnosis is recommended for parents of a WRS patient with confirmed EIF2AK3 mutation. Close therapeutic monitoring of diabetes and treatment with an insulin pump are recommended because of the risk of acute episodes of hypoglycaemia and ketoacidosis. Interventions under general anaesthesia increase the risk of acute aggravation, because of the toxicity of anaesthetics, and should be avoided. Prognosis is poor and most patients die at a young age. Intervention strategies targeting ER dysfunction provide hope for future therapy and prevention.
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