OBJECTIVES: To serially assess changes in lumbar CSF biogenic amines, radiographic characteristics, and neurological signs in 34 patients with dominantly inherited ataxia. METHODS: Mutational analysis was used to identify genetic subgroups. Annual assessment of lumbar CSF monoamine metabolites using a gas chromatographic/mass spectrometric method and morphometric measurements of the cerebellum, pons, and the cervical spinal cord on MRI were analysed for each patient and compared with normal controls. RESULTS: Patients with CAG trinucleotide repeat expansions on chromosome 6p (mutSCA1) and chromosome 14q (mutSCA3) had only about one half the normal concentrations of lumbar CSF homovanillic acid (HVA) whereas, 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) concentrations were similar to those in age matched normal subjects. The HVA and 5-HIAA concentrations in clinically similar patients without mutSCA1 or mutSCA3 were normal. One year after the first study, HVA concentrations were reduced by a mean of 22% regardless of the patient's SCA mutation. Abnormalities on MRI were consistent with a spinopontine atrophy in patients with mutSCA3, spinopontocerebellar atrophy in patients with mutSCA1, and "pure" cerebellar atrophy in patients without these mutations. CONCLUSIONS: Quantitative MRI measurements were not useful in monitoring progression of disease but lumbar CSF HVA concentrations and total scores on a revised version of the ataxia clinical rating scale seemed to progress in parallel.
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