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In 1881 British opthalmologist Warren Tay made an unusual observation. He reported a cherry-red spot on the retina of a one-year-old patient, a patient who was also showing signs of progressive degeneration of the central nervous system as manifested in the child's physical and mental retardation. This cherry-red spot is a characteristic that would eventually come to be associated with metabolic neurological disorders like Sandhoff, GM-1, Niemann-Pick, and, to the credit of Tay, the lysosomal storage disorder known as Tay-Sachs disease.
Mitochondrial diseases in humans result when the small organelles called mitochondria, which exist in all human cells, fail to function normally. The mitochondria contain their own mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) separate from the cell's nuclear DNA (nDNA). The main function of mitochondria is to produce energy for the cell. They also function in a diverse set of mechanisms such as calcium hemostasis, cell signaling, regulation of programmed cell death (apoptosis), and biosynthesis of heme proteins that carry oxygen.
Teratogens are substances that may produce physical or functional defects in the human embryo or fetus after the pregnant woman is exposed to the substance. Alcohol and cocaine are examples of such substances. Exposure to the teratogen affects the fetus or embryo in a variety of ways, such as the duration of exposure, the amount of teratogenic substance, and the stage of development the embryo or fetus is in during the exposure.