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Improving newborn screening test performance for metachromatic leukodystrophy: Recommendation from a pre-pilot study that identified a late-infantile case for treatment.

Metachromatic leukodystrophy (MLD) is a devastating rare neurodegenerative disease. Typically, loss of motor and cognitive skills precedes early death. The disease is characterised by deficient lysosomal arylsulphatase A (ARSA) activity and an accumulation of undegraded sulphatide due to pathogenic variants in the ARSA gene. Atidarsagene autotemcel (arsa-cel), an ex vivo haematopoietic stem cell gene therapy was approved for use in the UK in 2021 to treat early-onset forms of pre- or early-symptomatic MLD. Optimal outcomes require early diagnosis, but in the absence of family history this is difficult to achieve without newborn screening (NBS). A pre-pilot MLD NBS study was conducted as a feasibility study in Manchester UK using a two-tiered screening test algorithm. Pre-established cutoff values (COV) for the first-tier C16:0 sulphatide (C16:0-S) and the second-tier ARSA tests were evaluated. Before the pre-pilot study, initial test validation using non‑neonatal diagnostic bloodspots demonstrated ARSA pseudodeficiency status was associated with normal C16:0-S results for age (n = 43) and hence not expected to cause false positive results in this first-tier test. Instability of ARSA in bloodspot required transfer of NBS bloodspots from ambient temperature to -20°C storage within 7-8 days after heel prick, the earliest possible in this UK pre-pilot study. Eleven of 3687 de-identified NBS samples in the pre-pilot were positive for C16:0-S based on the pre-established COV of ≥170 nmol/l or ≥ 1.8 multiples of median (MoM). All 11 samples were subsequently tested negative determined by the ARSA COV of <20% mean of negative controls. However, two of 20 NBS samples from MLD patients would be missed by this C16:0-S COV. A further suspected false negative case that displayed 4% mean ARSA activity by single ARSA analysis for the initial test validation was confirmed by genotyping of this NBS bloodspot, a severe late infantile MLD phenotype was predicted. This led to urgent assessment of this child by authority approval and timely commencement of arsa-cel gene therapy at 11 months old. Secondary C16:0-S analysis of this NBS bloodspot was 150 nmol/l or 1.67 MoM. This was the lowest result reported thus far, a new COV of 1.65 MoM is recommended for future pilot studies. Furthermore, preliminary data of this study showed C16:1-OH sulphatide is more specific for MLD than C16:0-S. In conclusion, this pre-pilot study adds to the international evidence that recommends newborn screening for MLD, making it possible for patients to benefit fully from treatment through early diagnosis.

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