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Primary ciliary dyskinesia (Siewert's / Kartagener's Syndrome): Respiratory symptoms and psycho-social impact
© McManus et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2003
Received: 29 July 2003
Accepted: 27 November 2003
Published: 27 November 2003
Although the pathophysiological defect in primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD; Siewert's / Kartagener's syndrome) is now well characterised, there are few studies of the impact of the condition upon health function, particularly in later life. This study assesses the health impact of the condition in a large group of patients. In addition, it assesses the similarity in age of diagnosis, symptoms and problems of those with situs inversus (PCD-SI) and those with situs solitus (PCD-SS).
Postal questionnaire sent to members of the UK Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia Family Support Group. The questionnaire contained the St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) and the SF-36 questionnaire for assessing health status.
93 questionnaires were returned, representing a 66% response rate. Replies were received from similar numbers of PCD-SI and PCD-SS. Individuals with PCD-SI did not show a significant tendency to be diagnosed earlier, and neither did they show any difference in their symptoms, or the relationship of symptoms to age. Respiratory symptoms were fairly constant up until the age of about 25, after which there was a slow increase in symptoms, and a decline in health status, patients over the age of 40 being about one and a half standard deviations below the mean on the physical component score of the PCS. Patients diagnosed earlier in life, and hence who had received more treatment for their condition, had better scores on the SGRQ Impact and Activity scores.
PCD is a chronic condition which has a progressively greater impact on health in the second half of life, producing significant morbidity and restriction of life style. Early diagnosis, and hence earlier treatment, may improve symptoms and the impact of the condition.
The condition now known as Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia (PCD), a case of which was reported by Siewert , was first properly recognised by Kartagener [2, 3], who described bronchiectasis, nasal polyposis, and chronic sinusitis in a group of patients who also showed situs inversus totalis, the complete left-right reversal of the viscera . Subsequent work by Afzelius  demonstrated that patients with Kartagener's syndrome had a motility defect in the cilia of respiratory mucosa, in the lungs and sinuses, and that in addition in males there can also be a defect of sperm motility, which results in reduced fertility .
Electron microscopy of mucosal cilia and sperm tails shows that in PCD the normal 9+2 architecture is disrupted due to the absence of dynein arms . Since dynein is one of the key intra-cellular 'molecular motors' [7, 8], the absence of the dynein arms is responsible for the impaired motility of the cilia and sperm. The identification of the ultra-structural ciliary defect means that it is now more appropriate to describe the condition as primary ciliary dyskinesia, the condition resulting from a primary problem in ciliary motility. The recognition of ciliary dyskinesia or immotility in Kartagener's syndrome has resulted in improved diagnosis, and an increasing awareness that the condition is more frequent than had been realised, and that, despite being an inherited defect, it is sometimes only diagnosed quite late in life [9, 10]. Although the condition is usually inherited as an autosomal recessive [11, 12], and some specific gene defects have been recognised [13, 14], it is clear that the syndrome shows substantial genetic heterogeneity 
Although Kartagener's syndrome classically showed situs inversus, a 'partial' syndrome was also recognised historically in which all of the symptoms were present, but the viscera were normally oriented (situs solitus). It is now clear that such cases are equally as frequent as the full syndrome, that cases of the syndrome with or without situs inversus co-occur within families with an autosomal recessive pattern of inheritance, and that the proper phenotype is not situs inversus but is more likely to be random situs, with a 50:50 chance of the viscera showing the normal or the reversed pattern . Such a model can therefore explaining the occasional occurrence of monozygotic twins with PCD, one showing situs inversus and the other situs solitus . Although the precise causal mechanism for the development of random situs, has not been fully elucidated in PCD, work on situs inversus in a range of species, including mice, frogs, chicks and zebra-fish , suggests that the problem arises during development due to a ciliary defect in the nodal region (or its homologues of Hensen's node in the chick, or the Spemann organiser in amphibia, which are all associated with the protein known as left-right dynein [19, 20]), which results in disrupted or random fluid flow [21, 22] – for a semi-popular account see McManus . There are however some problems with the theory, and ciliary function may not entirely explain laterality development [24, 25]. Although there is no direct evidence that patients with PCD also show defects in the cilia in the nodal region, the simultaneous occurrence of defects both in 9+2 cilia and 9+0 cilia in Hfh4 null mice , and in mice with the human DNAH5 mutation which occurs in PCD , suggests that it is probably the case.
Despite the structural basis of PCD now being well-understood, there have been few studies of the effects of the condition on the overall health status of patients (although there are studies of respiratory function e.g. ). In particular there is no systematic description of the pattern of respiratory and other symptoms, of their variability and their development over the life-span, and neither is there any account of the impact of the condition on the life-style of the patients, or its effect upon their mental health. A search of PubMed found 771 articles using the search term ("Primary ciliary dyskinesia" or Kartagener*) and 693195 articles using the search term (Psycholog* or social), but a joint search of these categories found only a single article, in Spanish, which was only a case report .
The prevalence of PCD in the UK is difficult to estimate precisely. Although a figure of 1 in 15,000 has been quoted, which may itself be an underestimate, that would mean there are about 70 new cases born each year, and about 3,000 patients in total .
Here we describe a study of a group of 93 patients with PCD who are all members of a Patient Support Group based in southern England (although patients came from all over the UK), and in whom respiratory symptoms have been measured using the St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire, and health status has been assessed using the SF-36 questionnaire.
A postal questionnaire was sent in January 2003 to all individuals on the mailing list of the UK's Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia Family Support Group. A reminder was sent to non-respondents after four weeks.
The questionnaire consisted of 16 pages of A4, and covered a wide range of topics, not all of which are relevant to the present study, since a study was also being carried out of lateralisation . Measures of personality were also collected, but will be reported elsewhere . Separate versions of the questionnaire were provided for adults and children (under 16 years of age). The principle difference was in the consent forms (see below), and in addition there were minor changes of wording between the two forms, principally to do with work/school, and with occasional simplification of wording in child version. The child version also did not contain questions about smoking.
Respiratory symptoms were assessed by the St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) [32–35], which provides three separate scales, Symptoms, Activity and Impact. It has been validated in bronchiectasis . The scores are scaled in the range 0 – 100, where a score of 100 indicates optimal functioning within the context of respiratory illness.
Health Status overall was assessed by version 2 of the SF-36 questionnaire, which is a widely used generic instrument for assessing mental and physical functioning , for which UK population norms are also available . The questionnaire has eight sub-scales which can be divided into two broad groups, Physical Functioning, Role Physical, Bodily Painand General Health which are primarily physical, and Energy/vitality, Social functioning, Role Emotional and Mental Health which are primarily mental. The eight sub-scales are each scored in the range 0 – 100, where a score of 100 indicates optimal functioning. Factor analysis was used in the population-based survey to calculate weights for deriving two summary scores, the Physical Component Summary (PCS) and the Mental Component Summary (MCS) . Unlike the sub-scales, the PCS and MCS are scored so that in the reference population the mean is 50, and the standard deviation is 10, meaning that 95% of the population score in the range 30–70. Separate age and sex-related norms are also available http://www.hsru.ox.ac.uk/sf36v2.htm.
The study was approved by the joint UCL/UCLH Committees on the Ethics of Human Research. The mailing also included a letter from the secretary of the Support Group which endorsed the study. In order to protect patient confidentiality, the names of members of the Support Group were not known to the researchers, address labels being applied to envelopes by the Support Group. Respondents were given the opportunity to provide contact details for further research, and a majority did so. The questionnaire contained a consent form as an integral part of its construction, and this was signed either by the patient, or, where appropriate, by the patient and their parent or guardian.
The initial mailing was to 160 addresses. Responses were received from 93 individuals, and a further 15 envelopes were returned by the Post Office as undeliverable for one reason or another. The response rate is therefore 93/(160-15) = 66%.
Ninety-three completed questionnaires were returned, although not all respondents had replies to all questions (in some cases because of being too young). Parents of children were encouraged to respond to the questionnaire, irrespective of how young the child was, and to complete only those questions which it was possible to answer for the child. The age distribution was somewhat skewed, the mean being 22.7 years (SD 16.8), with the median being 16.5 (quartiles 10.8 and 31.3), and the 10th and 90th percentiles being 5.4 and 53.7). 59 (63.4%) respondents were female and 34 were male. The female respondents were somewhat older (Man-Whitney U test, p = .039; mean age of females = 25.2; mean age of males = 18.42) . Of those under the age of 16, 55% (24/44) were female, but for those over the age of 16, 71% (35/49) were female. The origin of the difference is not clear.
48 respondents said that their heart was on the right, and 44 that their heart was on the left (one respondent did not answer this question). There is therefore no evidence of a response bias in favour of those with their heart on the right (χ2 = 0.17, 1 df=, NS). All of the respondents who said that their heart was on the right said that this had been confirmed by X-ray, and all but two said that to their knowledge all of their body organs were reversed. It therefore seems safe to infer that there are 48 cases of Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia with situs inversus (PCD-SI), 44 cases of Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia with situs solitus (PCD-SS), and one of PCD with situs unknown.
Twenty respondents reported that other members of their family had PCD. There was no association with situs inversus, 10 of the 20 having PCD-SI and 10 having PCD-SS.
Age at diagnosis
A question on smoking was only included in the questionnaire sent to those over the age of sixteen. Two individuals (4%) were current smokers; both were male and smoked ten cigarettes per day. A further six (13%) were ex-smokers, and the remaining 37 (82%) had never smoked.
St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire
The SF-36 measures of Health Status
Age at diagnosis in relation to symptoms
Regression of the effects of age and time since diagnosis upon symptom scores. Column (1) shows the simple regression of symptom score upon age, without taking time since diagnosis into account.
Effect of age, without taking time since diagnosis into account (1) b (SE) Sig
Effect of age, taking time since diagnosis into account (2) b (SE) Sig
Effect of time since diagnosis, taking age into account (3) b (SE) Sig
-.750 (.171) p < .001
-.832 (.191) p < .001
.354 (.363) p = .334
-.500 (.172) p = .005
-.646 (.188) p = .001
.628 (.359) p = .085
-.465 (.121) p < .001
-.599 (.129) p < .001
.580 (.246) p = .022
-.292 (.105) p = .007
-.328 (.117) p = .007
.159 (.223) p = .480
-.216 (.073) p = .005
-.241 (.082) p = .005
.106 (.156) p = .500
PCD-SI compared with PCD-SS
Iindividuals with PCD-SI and those with PCD-SS were compared on the various measures of symptoms and health status. Simple t-tests showed no differences between PCD-SI and PCD-SS, and neither were there effects of situs on symptoms after taking age into account using a multiple regression. A detailed table of results is available from the first author on request.
Treatments used by patients in the study, and the Pearson correlation with age, age at diagnosis and years since diagnosis with usage (scored 3 = 'At present', 2 = 'In the past' and 1 = 'Never used').
Correlation of usage with:
"In the past"
Age at diagnosis
Years since diagnosis
Bronchodilators (inhaler or tablets)
Mucolytics to thin the sputum
Breathing exercises and techniques
.409 (p < .001)
.420 (p = .001)
Antacids or other drugs for heartburn or reflux
.380 (p < .001)
.398 (p = .002)
An important question concerns the relationship between treatment usage and symptoms. We therefore carried out a regression analysis relating symptom measures to the seven treatments about which we had asked. At the first step, age and years since diagnosis were entered into the analysis, and then a forward entry stepwise process was used to examine the predictive effects of the therapies. The SGRQ Symptoms score was predicted firstly by Antacids/Heartburn-Reflux treatments (beta = -.445, p < .001), and then by use of bronchodilators (beta = -.275, p = .012). Given the scoring of the treatment measures (high scores indicate treatment use), and the scoring of the symptom measures (low scores indicate poorer functioning), the negative beta coefficients indicate that those taking the treatments have lower symptom scores than those not taking them. Broadly similar results were found for the other outcome measures. The SGRQ Activity score was predicted firstly by Antacid use (beta = -.469, p < .001), and then by expectorant use (beta = -.323, p = 016). The SGRQ Impact score was predicted firstly by expectorant use (beta = -.450, p < .01), and then by Antacid use (beta = -.301, p = .010). The SF-36 Physical Components Score was predicted firstly by Expectorant use (beta = -.461, p = .001), and then by Antacid use (beta = -.296, p = .024). Finally, the SF-36 Mental Component Score was predicted only by Antibiotic use (beta = -.283, p = .037). Mucolytic use, physiotherapy and breathing exercises were not predictive of any of the symptom scores after other treatments had been taken into account. It should be noted that in each of the analyses the beta coefficient is negative, meaning that those taking the treatment had poorer health.
Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia is a chronic illness, in which, as Siewert emphasised in his description of the first properly documented case, symptoms can be present from soon after birth. Although the symptoms even from birth are inconvenient, our results suggest that during childhood and adolescence there is relatively little impact upon normal, healthy functioning, the standard measures of the SF-36 showing little deviation from normality. However during the mid-20s there is a continual and progressive increase in respiratory symptoms. Our results using the St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire, which has been validated against objective measures of respiratory function [32–34] are clearly parallel to the decline in respiratory function with age which was measured by Ellerman and Bisgaard  using standard spirometric techniques. A replotting of those data (available from the first author), clearly shows a graph which is parallel in form to that of our figure 5. The long-term, longitudinal study of Ellerman and Bisgaard  also showed that respiratory function was significantly worse in patients who presented in adulthood rather than when the condition was diagnosed in childhood. As in our results, Ellerman and Bisgaard  also showed that there was little deterioration once patients were under the supervision of a respiratory clinic, when management included regular spirometry, daily physiotherapy and monthly sputum cultures.
As well as lower respiratory symptoms, individuals with PCD also suffer a range of other symptoms from the ears, nose and throat, and upper gastrointestinal tract. Of some interest in our study is the decline in earache through adolescence, which provides a useful validation of the quality of our data, since such problems are thought to resolve as the Eustachian tube becomes larger due to growth. The subsequent resurgence of earache was more surprising, and requires further exploration.
On the physical scores of the SF-36 in our study there is a continual decline with age, such that from about the age of 40 onwards the health status of these individuals is one to one and a half standard deviations below the population mean (although there is substantial variability at all ages). That is a large and important effect on health, and although PCD does not usually manifest in an increased mortality, there is clearly a moderate degree of morbidity which affects normal physical functioning (although there seems relatively little effect on social and emotional functioning beyond the normal effects of ageing).
The results, particularly those shown in figure 3, are important because they suggest that the morbidity resulting from PCD is progressive across the life-span, and hence that early therapeutic interventions may be able to prevent the deterioration in health that we have found. The possible benefit of early medical intervention, particularly on the Impact and Activity scores of the SGRQ, is suggested by the analyses of table 1, which show that an earlier diagnosis, which results in more years of treatment since diagnosis, has a positive impact on symptoms. There is a need for properly designed, prospective studies both of early diagnosis itself, and of interventions such as regular sputum culture, routine use of antibiotics, and physiotherapy, all which may reduce morbidity .
Although earlier diagnosis may contribute to a better clinical outcome, it is not clear from our data what is the main causative component of that better outcome. We had basic self-report measures of the treatments received by these patients, and we looked for correlations with outcome. Although they were present and highly significant, in each case the regression coefficients were negative, meaning that those taking the treatments had poorer health. The implication is that the treatments taken are a response to symptoms, rather than that they are having a positive impact upon them. That is supported by the majority of the significant effects concerning expectorants and antacids (which are readily available as non-prescription medicines) rather than antibiotics, bronchodilators, or physiotherapy and breathing exercises, which are more associated with hospital treatment. That interpretation is supported by the sole correlate of antibiotic use being with the SF-36 Mental Component Score, suggesting antibiotics can be a response to anxiety and other psychological responses by patients to their illness.
Our data represent the largest published study of the symptoms and effects upon health in PCD, but we are aware that there is a risk that our sample may be biassed. All of the subjects are volunteers who had chosen to join the PCD Family Support Group, so that it is possible either that our subjects are not representative, perhaps coming from the more severe end of the spectrum of disease, or, particularly in the younger patients, their condition is less severe but parents have chosen to be involved in the support group in order to have as much information as possible about the condition. Although both biasses are possible, they also emphasise the need for properly representative and systematic studies of patients who are typical of the entire population. That would also require a concerted effort to identify a national sample of all individuals with PCD, independent of symptoms and presentation and diagnosis at clinics.
Many of the subjects in our study are relatively young, in part reflecting the frequent presentation of patients due to symptoms in the neonatal period, and the increased awareness of paediatricians for the diagnosis in young patients with chronic respiratory or otolaryngological problems. We encouraged parents to respond on behalf of their children and with the collaboration of their children, and were gratified by the response rate. Although there might be a concern, particularly in children under the age of ten, that the reports are not reliable, the fact of the matter is that those under ten report similar patterns of symptoms to those in their teens, and that this provides support and validation of the younger patients' responses. It is also the case that none of our conclusions would differ if individuals under the age of ten or twelve or sixteen were eliminated from this report.
A striking, and biologically fascinating, aspect of PCD is that half of the patients have situs inversus (and Siewert himself was himself impressed by the co-occurrence of the unusual conditions of bronchiectasis in childhood and situs inversus). Although it might be expected that the age at diagnosis would be lower in individuals who had situs inversus (PCD-SI) than in those with situs solitus (PCD-SS) the trend in this study did not reach statistical significance. The present results are therefore similar to those of Coren et al  who also found a non-significant trend towards PCD-SI cases being diagnosed earlier than PCD-SS. Even if a larger series were to find a significant effect, the broad conclusion has to be that even if the diagnosis is often triggered by the presence of situs inversus, the existence of other symptoms, in particular bronchiectasis in younger patients, should be sufficient to suggest PCD as a possible diagnosis.
Although only a half of PCD patients have situs inversus, the rest having the so-called 'partial Kartagener's syndrome', our analysis makes clear that the symptoms of PCD-SI and PCD-SS are the same, and the evolution of the condition with age is also the same. The situs inversus that occurs is therefore independent of the chronic respiratory symptoms, and therefore the true syndrome, as Afzelius and others  have recognised, is upper and lower respiratory tract problems due to ciliary immotility, coupled with random situs.
We are grateful to Carol Polak and the members and the scientific committee of the PCD Family Support Group for their help with this research, and to Andrew Bush and Mark Gardiner for helpful discussions.
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