Medical Definition of Kearns-Sayre syndrome

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Kearns-Sayre syndrome: A neuromuscular disorder characterized by three primary findings:

  • Progressive paralysis of certain eye muscles (chronic progressive external ophthalmoplegia, or CPEO);
  • Abnormal accumulation of colored (pigmented) material on the retina (atypical retinitis pigmentosa), leading to chronic inflammation and progressive degeneration of the retina; and
  • Heart disease (cardiomyopathy) such as cardiac conduction defects and heart block.
Other findings in the syndrome may include muscle weakness, short stature, hearing loss, and the loss of ability to coordinate voluntary movements (ataxia) due to problems in the part of the brain called the cerebellum.

Kearns-Sayre syndrome is one of the mitochondrial encephalomyopathies. These disorders are due to defects in the DNA of the mitochondria, the cell structures that produce energy. These defects cause the brain and muscles to function abnormally (encephalomyopathy). In about 80% of cases of Kearns-Sayre syndrome, tests reveal deletions in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).

There are many other names for the Kearns-Sayre syndrome including: CPEO with myopathy; CPEO with ragged-red fibers; KSS; Mitochondrial cytopathy, Kearns-Sayre type; Oculocraniosomatic syndrome; Ophthalmoplegia-plus syndrome; Ophthalmoplegia with myopathy; and Ophthalmoplegia with ragged-red fibers.

Last Editorial Review: 1/24/2017

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