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Angelman syndrome is a disorder in humans that causes neurological symptoms such as lack of speech, jerky movements, and insomnia. A human cell has two copies of twenty-three chromosomes for a total of forty-six-one copy from its mother and one from its father. But in the case of Angelman syndrome, the maternal chromosome numbered 15 has a mutation or deletion in its DNA and a gene on the paternal chromosome 15 is inactivated in some parts the brain. The result is the paternal gene is silenced during development of the sperm, which is called genetic imprinting.
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.