American History29 Jun 2009 02:50 pm
In 1962, physician Dr. Abraham Gordon created a stir within the medical community when he published a paper that opined that Abraham Lincoln had suffered from Marfan syndrome. Marfan syndrome is a connective tissue disorder that arises from a defect in the gene that causes the body to produce fibrillin-1, the protein that lends our connective tissue its flexibility and strength. Dr. Gordon based his diagnosis on observations of Lincoln’s unusual physiology; like others with the disorder, Lincoln was unusually tall and thin (with disproportionately long fingers and toes), and had an abnormally shaped chest and lax joints. According to the National Institute of Health, Marfan syndrome occurs in at least one out of every 5,000 people.
Scientists now believe that the complications arising from the disorder originate from a mutation that causes fibrillin-1 to disable a protein known as transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) (crucial to the termination of acute inflammation in the body). The resulting failure of the body to manage acute inflammation weakens tissues throughout the body and causes the physical features associated with Marfan syndrome. The disorder is usually inherited genetically; an estimated 3 out of every 4 sufferers acquire the mutation from a parent with the disorder, while the remaining 25% develop the disorder from a spontaneous mutation. Moreover, Marfan syndrome is an autosomal dominant condition, which means only one parent need carry the gene to pass the disease on. Therefore, each child of an affected parent has a 50% chance of inheriting the disorder.
Many doctors have disputed Dr. Gordon’s theory, arguing that Lincoln’s medical history does not indicate that he suffered from the internal complications associated with the disorder. Besides its physiological manifestations, Marfan syndrome causes internal complications that can affect the lungs, eyes, spine, skeleton, hard palate and most critically, the heart valve and/or aorta. As such, Dr. Gordon’s detractors point out that Lincoln never complained of any heart or vision problems, the two most common internal complications of the disorder. In the 1990s, scientists briefly considered testing Lincoln’s DNA testing for Marfan, but the idea was later abandoned amidst protests from privacy advocates.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.