the skin, bottom layer of skin (subcutaneous tissue), and nerves from the brain (cranial nerves) and spinal cord (spinal root nerves).
NF1 is an inherited disease. If either parent has NF1, each of their children has a 50% chance of having the disease.
NF1 also appears in families with no previous history of the condition, as a result of a new gene change (mutation) in the sperm or egg. NF1 is caused by abnormalities in a gene for a protein called neurofibromin.
Neurofibromatosis causes unchecked growth of tissue along the nerves. This can put pressure on affected nerves and cause pain, severe nerve damage, and loss of function in the area served by the nerve. Problems with sensation or movement can occur, depending on the nerves affected.
The condition can be very different from person to person, even among people in the same family who have the NF1 gene.
The “coffee-with-milk” (café-au-lait) spots are the hallmark symptom of neurofibromatosis. Although many healthy people have 1 or 2 small café-au-lait spots, adults with 6 or more spots greater than 1.5 cm in diameter are likely to have neurofibromatosis. In most people with the condition, these spots may be the only symptom.
Other symptoms may include:
Freckles in the underarm or groin
Large, soft tumors called plexiform neurofibromas, which may have a dark color and may spread under the surface of the skin
Pain (from affected peripheral nerves)
Small, rubbery tumors of the skin called nodular neurofibromas
Exams and Tests
Diagnosis is made by a doctor familiar with NF1, including a neurologist, geneticist, dermatologist, or developmental pediatrician. The diagnosis will usually be made based on the unique symptoms and signs of neurofibromatosis.
Colored, raised spots (Lisch nodules) on the colored part (iris) of the eye
Fracture of the long bones of the leg in early childhood
Freckling in the armpits, groin, or underneath the breast in women
Large tumors under the skin (plexiform neurofibromas), which can affect the appearance and put pressure on nearby nerves or organs
Many soft tumors on the skin or deeper in the body
Mild cognitive impairment, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disorders
Tests may include:
Eye exam by an ophthalmologist familiar with NF1
Genetic tests to find a change (mutation) in the neurofibromin gene
MRI of the affected site
Other specific tests for complications
There is no specific treatment for neurofibromatosis. Tumors that cause pain or loss of function may be removed. Tumors that have grown quickly should be removed promptly as they may become cancerous (malignant). Experimental treatments for severe tumors are under investigation.
Some children with learning disorders may need special schooling.
For more information and resources, contact the National Neurofibromatosis Foundation.
If there are no complications, the life expectancy of people with neurofibromatosis is almost normal. With the right education and job expectations, people with neurofibromatosis can live a normal life.
Although mental impairment is generally mild, NF1 is a known cause of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in a small number of patients. Learning disabilities are a common problem.
Some people are treated differently because they have hundreds of tumors on their skin.
Patients with neurofibromatosis have an increased chance of developing severe tumors. In rare cases, these can shorten a person’s lifespan.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Blindness caused by a tumor in an optic nerve (optic glioma)
Break in the leg bones that does not heal well
Loss of function in nerves that a neurofibroma has put pressure on over the long term
Pheochromocytoma, which causes very high blood pressure
Regrowth of NF tumors
Scoliosis, or curvature of the spine
Tumors of the face, skin, and other exposed areas
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
You notice coffee-with-milk colored spots on your child’s skin or any of the signs listed here.
You have a family history of neurofibromatosis and are planning to have children, or would like to have your child examined.
Genetic counseling is recommended for anyone with a family history of neurofibromatosis.
Annual eye exams are strongly recommended.
NF1; Von Recklinghausen neurofibromatosis
Ferner RE. Neurofibromatosis 1 and neurofibromatosis 2: a twenty first century perspective. Lancet Neurol. 2007;6:340-351.
Haslam RHA. Neurocutaneous Syndromes. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelston Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 596.
Update Date: 9/10/2010
Updated by: Chad Haldeman-Englert, MD, Division of Human Genetics, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.