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Cerebellum. 2013 Apr;12(2):245-66. doi: 10.1007/s12311-012-0405-3.

Magnetic resonance imaging biomarkers in patients with progressive ataxia: current status and future direction.

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  • 1Academic Unit of Radiology, Floor C, Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Glossop Road, Sheffield, S10 2JF, UK. s.currie@sheffield.ac.uk


A diagnostic challenge commonly encountered in neurology is that of an adult patient presenting with ataxia. The differential is vast and clinical assessment alone may not be sufficient due to considerable overlap between different causes of ataxia. Magnetic resonance (MR)-based biomarkers such as voxel-based morphometry, MR spectroscopy, diffusion-weighted and diffusion-tensor imaging and functional MR imaging are gaining great attention for their potential as indicators of disease. A number of studies have reported correlation with clinical severity and underlying pathophysiology, and in some cases, MR imaging has been shown to allow differentiation of conditions causing ataxia. However, despite recent advances, their sensitivity and specificity vary. In addition, questions remain over their validity and reproducibility, especially when applied in routine clinical practice. This article extensively reviews the current literature regarding MR-based biomarkers for the patient with predominantly adult-onset ataxia. Imaging features characteristic of a particular ataxia are provided and features differentiating ataxia groups and subgroups are discussed. Finally, discussion will turn to the feasibility of applying these biomarkers in routine clinical practice.

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