Health Illustrated Encyclopedia

Menkes syndrome


Menkes syndrome is an inborn error of metabolism in which cells in the body cannot absorb enough copper.

Alternative Names

Steely hair disease; Menkes kinky hair syndrome; Kinky hair disease


Menkes syndrome is caused by a defect in the ATP7A gene. The defect makes it hard for the body to distribute and absorb copper. As a result, the brain and other parts of the body do not get enough copper. Insufficient copper levels can affect the structure of bone, skin, hair, and blood vessels and interfere with nerve function. In the meantime, copper builds up in the small intestine and kidneys.

Menkes syndrome is inherited, which means it runs in families. It is inherited in an x-linked recessive condition.


  • Pudgy, rosy cheeks
  • Lack of muscle tone, floppiness (hypotonia)
  • Irritability
  • Seizures
  • Brittle, kinky hair
  • Feeding difficulties
  • Low body temperature
  • Bone spurs
  • Skeletal changes
  • Mental deterioration

Exams and Tests

There is often a history of Menkes syndrome in a male relative. Signs include slow growth in the womb, abnormally low body temperature, bleeding in the brain, and abnormal appearance of the hair under the microscope. In males, all of the hairs will be abnormal, but in females who carry this trait, only half of the hairs may be abnormal.

Some of the tests that may be done include:

Genetic testing may show mutation in the ATP7A gene


Treatment usually only helps when started very early in the course of the disease. Injections of copper into a vein or under the skin have been used with mixed results.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most persons with this condition die within the first few years of life.

Possible Complications

  • Seizures
  • Death

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Talk to your health care provider if you have a family history of Menkes syndrome and you plan to have children. A baby with this condition will often show symptoms early in infancy.


See a genetic counselor if you want to have children and you have a family history of Menkes syndrome. Maternal relatives of a boy with this syndrome should be seen by a geneticist to find out if they are carriers.

Provided by

Review Date: 5/22/2007
Reviewed By: Brian Kirmse, MD, Department of Human Genetics, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.