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Gorlin syndrome
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Gorlin syndrome

Reviewed July 2008

What is Gorlin syndrome?

Gorlin syndrome, also known as nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome, is a condition that affects many areas of the body and increases the risk of developing various tumors.

The type of cancer diagnosed most often in people with Gorlin syndrome is basal cell carcinoma, which is the most common form of skin cancer. Individuals with Gorlin syndrome typically begin to develop basal cell carcinomas during adolescence or early adulthood. These cancers occur most often on the face, chest, and back. The number of basal cell carcinomas that develop during a person's lifetime varies among affected individuals. Some people with Gorlin syndrome never develop any basal cell carcinomas, while others may develop thousands of these cancers. Individuals with lighter skin are more likely to develop basal cell carcinomas than are people with darker skin.

Most people with Gorlin syndrome also develop noncancerous (benign) tumors of the jaw, called keratocystic odontogenic tumors. These tumors usually begin to form during adolescence and often recur until about age 30. The keratocystic odontogenic tumors may cause facial swelling and tooth displacement.

Individuals with Gorlin syndrome have a higher risk of developing other tumors than the general population. Some affected individuals develop a brain tumor called medulloblastoma during childhood. A type of benign tumor called a fibroma can occur in the heart or in a woman's ovaries. Heart (cardiac) fibromas often do not cause any symptoms, but they may obstruct blood flow or cause irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia). Ovarian fibromas are not thought to affect a woman's ability to have children (fertility).

Other features of Gorlin syndrome include skin pits in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet; large head size; and skeletal abnormalities involving the spine, ribs, or skull.

How common is Gorlin syndrome?

The prevalence of Gorlin syndrome is estimated to be 1 in 57,000 people. While more than 1 million new cases of basal cell carcinoma are diagnosed each year in the United States, fewer than 1 percent are related to Gorlin syndrome.

What genes are related to Gorlin syndrome?

Mutations in the PTCH1 gene cause Gorlin syndrome. This gene provides instructions for making a protein called Patched-1, which functions as a receptor. Receptor proteins have specific sites into which certain other proteins, called ligands, fit like keys into locks. Together, ligands and their receptors trigger signals that affect cell development and function. A protein called Sonic Hedgehog is the ligand for the Patched-1 receptor. Patched-1 prevents cell growth and division (proliferation) until Sonic Hedgehog is attached.

The PTCH1 gene is a tumor suppressor gene, which means it keeps cells from proliferating too rapidly or in an uncontrolled way. Mutations in this gene prevent the production of Patched-1 or lead to the production of an abnormal version of the receptor. An altered or missing Patched-1 receptor cannot effectively suppress cell growth and division. As a result, cells proliferate uncontrollably to form the tumors that are characteristic of Gorlin syndrome.

Read more about the PTCH1 gene.

How do people inherit Gorlin syndrome?

Gorlin syndrome is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means one copy of the altered gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the features that are present from birth, such as large head size and skeletal abnormalities. An affected person often inherits a PTCH1 mutation from one affected parent. Other cases may result from new mutations in the gene. These cases occur in people with no history of the disorder in their family. For tumors to develop, a mutation in the other copy of the PTCH1 gene must occur in certain cells during the person's lifetime. Most people who are born with one PTCH1 mutation eventually acquire a second mutation in certain cells and develop basal cell carcinomas and other tumors.

Where can I find information about treatment for Gorlin syndrome?

These resources address the management of Gorlin syndrome and may include treatment providers.

You might also find information on treatment of Gorlin syndrome in Educational resources and Patient support.

Where can I find additional information about Gorlin syndrome?

You may find the following resources about Gorlin syndrome helpful. These materials are written for the general public.

You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for healthcare professionals and researchers.

What other names do people use for Gorlin syndrome?

  • Basal Cell Nevus Syndrome
  • BCNS
  • Gorlin-Goltz syndrome
  • Nevoid Basal Cell Carcinoma Syndrome

What if I still have specific questions about Gorlin syndrome?

Where can I find general information about genetic conditions?

What glossary definitions help with understanding Gorlin syndrome?

arrhythmia ; autosomal ; autosomal dominant ; benign ; cancer ; carcinoma ; cardiac ; cell ; fertility ; gene ; ligand ; medulloblastoma ; mutation ; new mutation ; ovarian ; ovary ; population ; prevalence ; proliferate ; proliferating ; proliferation ; protein ; receptor ; symptom ; syndrome ; tumor ; tumor suppressor gene

You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.

References (6 links)


The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.

Reviewed: July 2008
Published: January 23, 2009