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Subacute combined degeneration: clinical, electrophysiological, and magnetic resonance imaging findings
  1. B Hemmera,
  2. F X Glockera,
  3. M Schumacherb,
  4. G Deuschlc,
  5. C H Lückinga
  1. aDepartment of Neurology, bDepartment of Neuroradiology, University of Freiburg, Breisacher Straβe 64, D-79106 Freiburg, Germany, cDepartment of Neurology, University of Kiel, Niemannsweg 147, D-24105 Kiel, Germany
  1. Dr F X Glocker, Department of Neurology, University of Freiburg, Breisacher Straße 64, D-79106 Freiburg, Germany. Telephone 0049 761 270 5313; fax 0049 761 270 5313.


OBJECTIVE Vitamin B12 deficiency is a systemic disease that often affects the nervous system. One of the most prevalent manifestations is subacute combined degeneration (SCD) of the spinal cord. To access the clinical, electrophysiological, and structural abnormalities associated with SCD, a study was conducted in nine patients.

METHODS Clinical, electrophysiological (electroneurography, somatosensory and motor evoked potentials), and MRI evaluations were performed in patients before and after treatment.

RESULTS The most prominent clinical and electrophysiological findings in all patients were dysfunctions of the posterior column. Corresponding hyperintense lesions in the posterior column of the spinal cord were found in two patients by T2 weighted MRI. Damage to the central motor pathway was identified in four patients. Demyelinating neuropathy was present in one patient and axonal neuropathy in four. All patients showed improvement of their symptoms after treatment with cobalamin. Abnormalities of the spinal cord on MRI disappeared early in recovery. Motor evoked potentials and median somatosensory evoked potentials typically normalised after treatment, whereas tibial somatosensory evoked potentials remained abnormal in most patients.

CONCLUSIONS Clinical, electrophysiological, and MRI findings associated with SCD in vitamin B12 deficiency are diverse. Thus vitamin B12 deficiency should be considered in the differential diagnosis of all spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and neuropsychiatric disorders.

  • vitamin B12 deficiency
  • subacute combined degeneration
  • myelopathy

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