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Test ID NAGR Hexosaminidase A and Total, Leukocytes/Molecular Reflex, Whole Blood

Reporting Name

Hexosaminidase A and Tot, WBC/Mole

Useful For

Carrier detection and diagnosis of Tay-Sachs disease


Recommended test for carrier detection of Tay-Sachs disease


Carrier detection and diagnosis of Sandhoff disease

Reflex Tests

Test ID Reporting Name Available Separately Always Performed
TSDP Tay-Sachs, Mutation Analysis Yes No

Testing Algorithm

If hexosaminidase A activity is below 63%, then molecular variant analysis will be performed at an additional charge.


Tay-Sachs and Related Disorders Diagnostic Testing Algorithm

Specimen Type

Whole Blood ACD

Shipping Instructions

For optimal isolation of leukocytes, it is recommended the specimen arrive refrigerated within 6 days of collection to be stabilized. Collect specimen Monday through Thursday only and not the day before a holiday. Specimen should be collected and packaged as close to shipping time as possible.

Specimen Required


Preferred: Yellow top (ACD solution B)

Acceptable: Yellow top (ACD solution A)

Specimen Volume: 6 mL

Collection Instructions: Send specimen in original tube. Do not aliquot.

Specimen Minimum Volume

5 mL

Specimen Stability Information

Specimen Type Temperature Time Special Container
Whole Blood ACD Refrigerated (preferred) 6 days YELLOW TOP/ACD
  Ambient  6 days YELLOW TOP/ACD

Reference Values


≤15 years: ≥20 nmol/min/mg

≥16 years: 16.4-36.2 nmol/min/mg



≤15 years: 20-80% of total

≥16 years: 63-75% of total

Day(s) Performed

Preanalytical processing occurs Monday through Saturday.

Assay is performed: Friday

Test Classification

This test was developed, and its performance characteristics determined by Mayo Clinic in a manner consistent with CLIA requirements. This test has not been cleared or approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

CPT Code Information

83080 x 2

81255-HEXA (hexosaminidase A, alpha polypeptide) (eg, Tay-Sachs disease) gene analysis, common variants (eg, 1278insTATC, 1421+1G>C, G269S) (if appropriate)

LOINC Code Information

Test ID Test Order Name Order LOINC Value
NAGR Hexosaminidase A and Tot, WBC/Mole 87543-5


Result ID Test Result Name Result LOINC Value
8775 Hexosaminidase Total, WBC 24075-4
2294 Hexosaminidase Percent A, WBC 23825-3
2284 Interpretation (NAGW) 59462-2
35029 Reviewed By 18771-6

Clinical Information

Tay-Sachs and Sandhoff diseases are lysosomal storage disorders, also referred to as GM2 gangliosidoses, caused by deficiencies of the enzymes hexosaminidase A and hexosaminidase B, respectively. These isoenzymes are dimers that differ in their subunit composition. Hexosaminidase A is a heterodimer composed of 1 alpha and 1 beta subunit (alpha-beta), while hexosaminidase B is a homodimer composed of 2 beta subunits (beta-beta). The defective lysosomal degradation and the excessive accumulation of GM2 ganglioside and related glycolipids results in the development of the clinical symptomology observed in Tay-Sachs and Sandhoff diseases.


Tay-Sachs disease is an autosomal recessive condition resulting from 2 variants in HEXA, which encodes for the alpha subunit of hexosaminidase. Individuals with Tay-Sachs disease have a deficiency of hexosaminidase A. Variability is observed with respect to age of onset and clinical symptoms.


The acute infantile form typically presents with progressive motor deterioration beginning at 3 to 6 months of age. Patients exhibit weakness, hypotonia, and decreasing attentiveness. Motor skills learned previously, such as crawling or sitting alone, are nearly always lost by 1 year of age. Other symptoms include rapid diminishing of vision, seizures, macrocephaly due to cerebral gliosis, and the characteristic cherry-red spot in the retina. Affected individuals typically do not survive past 5 years of age.


The juvenile or subacute form of Tay-Sachs disease often presents between 2 and 10 years with ataxia and clumsiness. Patients develop difficulties with speech and cognition. Neurologic features progressively worsen, and death is typically 2 to 4 years later.


Disease progression is slower in patients with chronic or adult-onset Tay-Sachs disease. Early signs and symptoms may be subtle and nonspecific, involving muscle and/or neurologic findings, often resulting in initial misdiagnoses. Affected individuals may exhibit abnormalities of gait and posture, spasticity, dysarthria, and progressive muscle wasting and weakness. Cognitive impairment, dementia, or psychiatric findings are observed in some patients. Significant clinical variability exists both between and within families.


The carrier frequency of Tay-Sachs disease is increased in certain groups including individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish, Celtic, and French-Canadian ancestry. A common cause of false-positive carrier screening by enzyme analysis, particularly among individuals of non-Ashkenazi Jewish descent, is due to the presence of pseudodeficiency alleles. Such sequence variations are not associated with disease but result in the production of a hexosaminidase A enzyme with decreased activity towards the artificial substrate typically used in the enzyme assay. The recommended testing strategy is to order NAGR / Hexosaminidase A and Total, Leukocytes/Molecular Reflex, Whole Blood, which begins with enzyme analysis and when the percent of hexosaminidase A enzyme is low, reflexes to the molecular panel that includes the most common genetic variants observed in these high-risk populations and 2 common pseudodeficiency alleles.


Sandhoff disease is an autosomal recessive condition resulting from 2 variants in HEXB, which encodes for the beta subunit of hexosaminidase. Individuals with Sandhoff disease have deficiencies in both hexosaminidase A and hexosaminidase B. Phenotypically, patients with Sandhoff disease present with features very similar to Tay-Sachs disease including variability in age of onset and severity. Enzyme analysis is generally required to distinguish between the 2 disorders. Unlike Tay-Sachs disease, Sandhoff disease does not have an increased carrier frequency in any specific population.


Testing for Tay-Sachs and Sandhoff diseases occurs by analysis of hexosaminidase A, a heat-labile enzyme, and total hexosaminidase (hexosaminidase A plus hexosaminidase B). When testing the enzyme, an artificial substrate is most commonly used. The total hexosaminidase is quantified. Following this, heat inactivation of hexosaminidase A occurs with a second measurement of the total enzyme level. From this, the percent hexosaminidase A is calculated. Biochemically, Tay-Sachs disease is characterized by normal total hexosaminidase with a very low percent hexosaminidase A. Carriers of Tay-Sachs disease are asymptomatic but have intermediate percent hexosaminidase A in serum and leukocytes. Follow-up molecular testing is recommended for all individuals with enzyme results in the carrier or possible carrier ranges to differentiate carriers of a pseudodeficiency allele from those with a disease-causing variant. In addition, this allows for the facilitation of prenatal diagnosis for at-risk pregnancies.


A very small group of patients affected with Tay-Sachs disease have alterations referred to as the B1 variant. In the presence of an artificial substrate, the B1 variant allows for a heterodimer formation of hexosaminidase A and exhibits activity. However, in vivo the B1 variant hexosaminidase A is inactive on the natural substrate. Thus, with the artificial substrate, these patients appear to be unaffected. Individuals with the B1 variant of Tay-Sachs disease must be distinguished using a natural substrate assay (MUGS / Hexosaminidase A, Serum). Clinically, patients with at least one B1 variant typically become symptomatic beyond the infantile period. This testing should be considered if one of the other assays indicates normal, indeterminate, or carrier results and the suspicion of Tay-Sachs disease remains high.


Hexosaminidase testing using the artificial substrate provides an indirect assay for Sandhoff disease. Affected individuals exhibit very low total hexosaminidase with a disproportionately high percent hexosaminidase A due to alpha subunit homodimer formation. Carriers of Sandhoff disease are asymptomatic but have intermediate levels of total hexosaminidase with high percent hexosaminidase A in serum and leukocytes. However, not all individuals with this pattern are true carriers of Sandhoff disease and follow-up molecular testing is recommended. In addition, molecular analysis allows for the facilitation of prenatal diagnosis for at-risk pregnancies. Testing hexosaminidase using the natural substrate does not identify homozygotes or heterozygotes for Sandhoff disease.


For additional testing options for Tay-Sachs and Sandhoff disease, see NAGW / Hexosaminidase A and Total Hexosaminidase, Leukocytes (Tay-Sachs disease only) and NAGS / Hexosaminidase A and Total Hexosaminidase, Serum (Tay-Sachs and Sandhoff diseases (not appropriate for Sandhoff detection in females who are pregnant or receiving hormonal contraception).


Interpretation is provided with report.


Hexosaminidase A usually composes greater than 62% of the total hexosaminidase activity in leukocytes (normal = 63%-75% A).


In leukocytes, the percent Hex A is used in determining whether an individual is a carrier of or affected with Tay-Sachs disease:

-63% to 75% hexosaminidase A is normal (noncarrier)

-58% to 62% hexosaminidase A is indeterminate (molecular testing recommended to discern carriers from non-carriers and to allow for prenatal diagnosis if desired)

-less than 58% hexosaminidase A is a carrier (molecular testing recommended to discern disease-causing variants from pseudodeficiency alleles and to allow for prenatal diagnosis if desired)

-less than 20% hexosaminidase A is consistent with a diagnosis of Tay-Sachs disease.


In leukocytes, the total hexosaminidase in combination with the percent hexosaminidase A aids in determining whether an individual is at-risk to be a carrier of or is affected with Sandhoff disease:

-greater than or equal to 76% hexosaminidase A is suggestive of a Sandhoff carrier, when the total hexosaminidase is depressed

-Total hexosaminidase activity near zero with nearly 100% hexosaminidase A is consistent with Sandhoff disease

Clinical Reference

1. Triggs-Raine BL, Feigenbaum ASJ, Natowicz M, et al: Screening for carriers of Tay-Sachs disease among Ashkenazi Jews-A comparison of DNA-based and enzyme-based tests. N Engl J Med. 1990;323:6-12

2. Delnooz CCS, Lefeber DJ, Langemeijer SMC, et al: New cases of adult-onset Sandhoff disease with a cerebellar or lower motor neuron phenotype. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2010;81(9):968-972

3. Vallance H, Morris TJ, Coulter-Mackie M, et al: Common HEXB polymorphisms reduce serum HexA and HexB enzymatic activities, potentially masking Tay-Sachs disease carrier identification. Mol Genet Metab. 2006 Feb;87(2):122-127

4. Toro C, Shirvan L, Tifft C: HEXA disorders. In: Adam MP, Ardinger HH, Pagon RA, et al, eds. GeneReviews [Internet]. University of Washington, Seattle; 1999. Updated October 1, 2020. Accessed March 29, 2021. Available at

5. Neudorfer O, Pastores GM, Zeng BJ, et al: Late-onset Tay-Sachs disease: phenotypic characterization and genotypic correlations in 21 affected patients. Genet Med. 2005 Feb;7(2):119-123

6. Sutton VR: Tay-Sachs disease screening and counseling families at risk for metabolic disease. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2002 Jun;29(2):287-296

7. Gravel RA, Kaback MM, Proia RL, Sandhoff K, Suzuki K, Suzuki K: The GM2 gangliosidoses. In: Valle D, Antonarakis S, Ballabio A, Beaudet A, Mitchell GA, eds. The Online Metabolic and Molecular Bases of Inherited Disease. McGraw-Hill. Accessed January 30, 2020. Available at

8. D'Souza G, McCann CL, Hedrick J, et al: Tay-Sachs disease carrier screening: a 21-year experience. Genet Test. 2000;4(3):257-263

Report Available

4 to 8 days

Method Name

Heat Inactivation/Fluorometric/Semiautomated


1. New York Clients-Informed consent is required. Document on the request form or electronic order that a copy is on file. The following documents are available in Special Instructions:

-Informed Consent for Genetic Testing (T576)

-Informed Consent for Genetic Testing-Spanish (T826)

2. Biochemical Genetics Patient Information (T602) in Special Instructions

3. If not ordering electronically, complete, print, and send a Biochemical Genetics Test Request (T798) with the specimen.