Carpenter syndrome

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Carpenter syndrome


Carpenter syndrome is a rare hereditary disorder resulting in the premature closing of the cranial sutures, which are the line joints between the bones of the skull, and in syndactyly, a condition characterized by the webbing of fingers and toes. The syndrome is named after G. Carpenter who first described this disorder in 1901.


Carpenter syndrome is a subtype of a family of genetic disorders known as acrocephalopolysyndactyly (ACPS) disorders. Carpenter syndrome is also called Acrocephalopolysyndactyly Type II (ACPS II). There were originally five types of ACPS. As of early 2001, this number has decreased because some of these conditions have been recognized as being similar to each other or to other genetic syndromes. For example, it is now agreed that ACPS I, or Noack syndrome, is the same as Pfeiffer syndrome . Researchers have also concluded that the disorders formerly known as Goodman syndrome (ACPS IV) and Summitt syndrome are variants (slightly differ ent forms) of Carpenter syndrome.

All forms of ACPS are characterized by premature closing of the cranial sutures and malformations of the fingers and toes. Individuals diagnosed with Carpenter syndrome have short and broad heads (brachycephaly), the tops of which appear abnormally cone-shaped (acrocephaly). Webbing or fusion of the fingers or toes (syndactyly) and/or the presence extra fingers or toes (polydactyly) are also characteristic signs of Carpenter syndrome.

The human skull consists of several bony plates separated by a narrow fibrous joint that contains stem cells. These fibrous joints are called cranial sutures. There are six sutures: the sagittal, which runs from front to back across the top of the head; the two coronal sutures, which run across the skull parallel to and just above the hairline; the metopic, which runs from front to back in front of the sagittal suture; and the two lamboid sutures, which run side to side across the back of the head. The premature closing of one or more of these cranial sutures leads to skull deformations, a condition called craniosynostosis . There are seven types of craniosynostosis depending on which cranial suture or sutures are affected: sagittal, bicoronal (both coronal sutures), unicoronal (one coronal suture), coronal and sagittal, metopic, lambdoid and sagittal, and total, in which all the cranial sutures are affected. Individuals affected with Carpenter syndrome show sagittal and bicoronal types of skull malformations.

Genetic profile

Carpenter syndrome is inherited as a recessive nonsex linked (autosomal) condition. The gene responsible for the syndrome has not yet been identified, but it is currently believed that all ACPS syndromes may be the result of genetic mutations—changes occurring in the genes. Genetic links to other syndromes that also result in craniosynostosis have been identified. As of 1997, 64 distinct mutations in six different genes have been linked to craniosynostosis. Three of these genes, one located on the short arm of chromosome 8 (8p11), one on the long arm of chromosome 10 (10q26), and another on the short arm of chromosome 4 (4p16), are related to fibroblast growth factor receptors (FGFRs), which are molecules that control cell growth. Other implicated genes are the TWIST gene located on chromosome 7, the MSX2 gene on chromosome 5, and the FBN1 gene on the long arm of chromosome 15.


Carpenter syndrome and the other ACPS disorders have an occurrence of approximately one in every one million live births. It is rare because both parents must carry the gene mutation in order for their child to have the disease. Therefore, Carpenter syndrome has been observed in cases where the parents are related by blood, though in most cases parents are not related. Parents with one child affected by Carpenter syndrome have a 25% likelihood that their next child will also be affected with the disorder.

Signs and symptoms

Individuals diagnosed with Carpenter syndrome show various types of malformations and deformities of the skull. The two main examples are sagittal and bicoronal craniosynostosis. Sagittal craniosynostosis is characterized by a long and narrow skull (scaphocephaly). This is measured as an increase in the A-P, or anterior-to-posterior, diameter, which indicates that looking down on the top of the skull, the diameter of the head is greater than normal in the front-to-back orientation. Individuals affected with sagittal craniosynostosis also have narrow but prominent foreheads and a larger than normal back of the head. The so-called soft-spot found just beyond the hairline in a normal baby is very small or absent in a baby affected with sagittal craniosynostosis.

The other type of skull malformation observed, bicoronal craniosynostosis, is characterized by a wide and short skull (brachycephaly). This is measured as a decrease in the A-P diameter, which indicates that looking down on the top of the skull, the diameter of the head is less than normal in the front-to-back orientation. Individuals affected with this condition have poorly formed eye sockets and foreheads. This causes a smaller than normal sized eye socket that can cause eyesight complications. These complications include damage to the optic nerve, which can cause a loss of visual clarity; bulging eyeballs resulting from the shallow orbits (exophthalmus), which usually damages the eye cornea; widely spaced eyes; and a narrowing of the sinuses and tear ducts that can cause inflammation of the mucous membranes that line the exposed portion of the eyeball (conjunctivitis).

A further complication of bicoronal craniosynostosis is water on the brain (hydrocephalus ), which increases pressure on the brain. Most individuals affected with this condition also have an abnormally high and arched palate that can cause dental problems and protrusion, the thrusting forward of the lower jaw. Coronal and sagittal craniosynostosis are characterized by a cone-shaped head (acrocephaly). The front soft-spot characteristic of an infant's skull is generally much larger than normal and it may never close without surgical intervention. Individuals with these skull abnormalities may also have higher than normal pressure inside the skull.

Individuals with Carpenter syndrome often have webbed fingers or toes (cutaneous syndactyly) or partial fusion of their fingers or toes (syndactyly). These individuals also tend to have unusually short fingers (bracydactyly) and sometimes exhibit extra toes, or more rarely, extra fingers (polydactyly).

Approximately one third of Carpenter syndrome individuals have heart defects at birth. These may include: narrowing of the artery that delivers blood from the heart to the lungs (pulmonary stenosis); blue baby syndrome, due to various defects in the structure of the heart or its major blood vessels; transposition of the major blood vessels, meaning that the aorta and pulmonary artery are inverted; and the presence of an extra large vein, called the superior vena cava, that delivers blood back to the heart from the head, neck, and upper limbs.

In some persons diagnosed with Carpenter syndrome, additional physical problems are present. Individuals are often short or overweight, with males having a disorder in which the testicles fail to descend properly (cryptorchidism). Another problem is caused by parts of the large intestine coming through an abnormal opening near the navel (umbilical hernia). In some cases, mild mental retardation has also been observed.


The diagnosis of Carpenter syndrome is made based on the presence of the bicoronal and sagittal skull malformation, which produces a cone-shaped or short and broad skull, accompanied by partially fused or extra fingers or toes (syndactly or polydactyly). Skull x rays and/or a CT scan may also be used to diagnose the skull malformations correctly. Other genetic disorders are also characterized by the same types of skull deformities and some genetic tests are available for them. Thus, positive results on these tests can rule out the possibility of Carpenter syndrome.

Before birth, ultrasound imaging, a technique used to produce pictures of the fetus, is generally used to examine the development of the skull in the second and third months of pregnancy, but the images are not, as of 2000, always clear enough to properly diagnose the type of skull deformity, if present. New ultrasound techniques are being used in Japan however, that can detect skull abnormalities in fetuses with much higher image clarity.

Treatment and management

Operations to correct the skull malformations associated with Carpenter syndrome should be performed during the first year of the baby's life. This is because modifying the skull bones is much easier at that age and new bone growth, as well as the required bone reshaping, can occur rapidly. Also, the facial features are still highly undeveloped, so a greatly improved appearance can be achieved. If heart defects are present at birth, surgery may also be required. Follow-up support by pediatric, psychological, neurological, surgical, and genetic specialists may be necessary.

Individuals with Carpenter syndrome may have vision problems that require consultation with an ophthalmologist, or doctor specialized in the treatment of such problems. Speech and hearing therapy may also be necessary if the ears and the brain have been affected. If the palate is severely malformed, dental consultation may also be necessary. In the most severe cases of Carpenter syndrome, it may be necessary to treat feeding and respiratory problems that are associated with the malformed palate and sinuses. Obesity is associated with Carpenter syndrome and dietary management throughout the patient's lifetime may also be recommended.

Webbed fingers or toes (cutaneous syndactyly) may be easily corrected by surgery. Extra fingers or toes (polydactyly) may often be surgically removed shortly after birth.

Surgical procedures also exist to correct some of the heart defects associated with Carpenter syndrome, as well as the testicles disorder of affected males. The abnormal opening of the large intestine near the navel (umbilical hernia or omphalocele ) can also be treated by surgery. Additionally, intervention programs for developmental delays are available for affected patients.


Carpenter syndrome is not usually fatal if immediate treatment for the heart defects and/or skull malformations is available. In all but the most severe and inoperable cases of craniosynostosis, it is possible that the affected individual may attain a greatly improved physical appearance. Depending on damage to the nervous system, the rapidity of treatment, and the potential brain damage from excess pressure on the brain caused by skull malformation, certain affected individuals may display varying degrees of developmental delay. Some individuals will continue to have vision problems throughout life. These problems will vary in severity depending on the initial extent of their individual skull malformations, but most of these problems can now be treated.



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Wilkie, A. "Craniosynostosis: genes and mechanisms." Human Molecular Genetics (1979): 1647-56.


Children's Craniofacial Association. PO Box 280297, Dallas, TX 75243-4522. (972) 994-9902 or (800) 535-3643. [email protected] <>.

Craniosynostosis and Parents Support. 2965-A Quarters, Quantico, VA 22134. (877) 686-CAPS or (703) 445-1078. <>.


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Golwyn, D., T. Anderson, and P. Jeanty. "Acrocephalopolysyndactyly." TheFetus.Net.<> (February 8, 2001).

Paul A. Johnson