Spinocerebellar ataxia type 7 is a neurodegenerative polyglutamine disease characterized by ataxia and retinal degeneration. The longitudinal course is unknown, and relationships between repeat expansion, clinical manifestations, and neuropathology remain uncertain. We followed 16 affected individuals of a 61-member kindred over 27 years with electroretinograms, neurological examinations including the Brief Ataxia Rating Scale, neuroimaging in five, and autopsy in four cases. We identified four stages of the illness: Stage 0, gene-positive but phenotypically silent; Stage 1, no symptoms, but hyperreflexia and/or abnormal electroretinograms; Stage 2, symptoms and signs progress modestly; and Stage 3, rapid clinical progression. CAG repeat length correlated inversely with age of onset of visual or motor signs (r = −0.74, p = 0.002). Stage 3 rate of progression did not differ between cases (p = 0.18). Electroretinograms correlated with Brief Ataxia Rating Scale score and were a biomarker of disease onset and progression. All symptomatic patients developed gait ataxia, extremity dysmetria, dysarthria, dysrhythmia, and oculomotor abnormalities. Funduscopy revealed pale optic discs and pigmentary disturbances. Visual acuity declined to blindness in those with longer CAG expansions. Hyperreflexia was present from Stage 1 onwards. Restless legs syndrome and sensory impairment were common. Neuropathological hallmarks were neuronal loss in cerebellar cortex, deep cerebellar nuclei, inferior olive, and anterior horns of the spinal cord, and axonal loss in spinocerebellar tracts, dorsal nerve roots, and posterior columns. Retinal pathology included photoreceptor degeneration and disruption of retinal pigment epithelium. Spinocerebellar ataxia type 7 evolves through four clinical stages; neuropathological findings underlie the clinical presentation; electroretinograms are a potential biomarker of disease progression.
1.Ataxia Unit, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology Unit, Laboratory for Neuroanatomy and Cerebellar Neurobiology, Department of NeurologyMassachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
2.C.S. Kubik Laboratory for Neuropathology, Pathology ServiceMassachusetts General HospitalBostonUSA
3.Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical ImagingMassachusetts General HospitalBostonUSA
4.Berman-Gund Laboratory for the Study of Retinal Degenerations, Department of OphthalmologyHarvard Medical School, Massachusetts Eye and Ear InfirmaryBostonUSA