, Volume 113, Issue 7, pp 829-843
Date: 19 Dec 2005

Spinocerebellar ataxia type 4 (SCA4): Initial pathoanatomical study reveals widespread cerebellar and brainstem degeneration

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Summary.

Spinocerebellar ataxia type 4 (SCA4), also known as ‘hereditary ataxia with sensory neuropathy’, represents a very rare, progressive and untreatable form of an autosomal dominant inherited cerebellar ataxia (ADCA). Due to a lack of autopsy cases, no neuropathological or clinicopathological studies had yet been performed in SCA4. In the present study, the first available cerebellar and brainstem tissue of a clinically diagnosed and genetically-confirmed German SCA4 patient was pathoanatomically studied using serial thick sections. During this systematic postmortem investigation, along with an obvious demyelinization of cerebellar and brainstem fiber tracts we observed widespread cerebellar and brainstem neurodegeneration with marked neuronal loss in the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area, central raphe and pontine nuclei, all auditory brainstem nuclei, in the abducens, principal trigeminal, spinal trigeminal, facial, superior vestibular, medial vestibular, interstitial vestibular, dorsal motor vagal, hypoglossal, and prepositus hypoglossal nuclei, as well as in the nucleus raphe interpositus, all dorsal column nuclei, and in the principal and medial subnuclei of the inferior olive. Severe neuronal loss was seen in the Purkinje cell layer of the cerebellum, in the cerebellar fastigial nucleus, in the red, trochlear, lateral vestibular, and lateral reticular nuclei, the reticulotegmental nucleus of the pons, and the nucleus of Roller. In addition, immunocytochemical analysis using the anti-polyglutamine antibody 1C2 failed to detect any polyglutamine-related immunoreactivity in the central nervous regions of this SCA4 patient studied. In view of the known functional role of affected nuclei and related fiber tracts, the present findings not only offer explanations for the well-known disease symptoms of SCA4 patients (i.e. ataxic symptoms, dysarthria and somatosensory deficits), but for the first time help to explain why diplopia, gaze-evoked nystagmus, auditory impairments and pathologically altered brainstem auditory evoked potentials, saccadic smooth pursuits, impaired somatosensory functions in the face, and dysphagia may occur during the course of SCA4. Finally, the results of our immunocytochemical studies support the concept that SCA4 is not a member of the CAG-repeat or polyglutamine diseases.

Y. Hellenbroich and K. Gierga are joint first authors
C. Zühlke and U. Rüb are joint senior authors