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Neuropathol Appl Neurobiol. 2006 Dec;32(6):635-49.

Degeneration of ingestion-related brainstem nuclei in spinocerebellar ataxia type 2, 3, 6 and 7.

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Department of Clinical Neuroanatomy, J W Goethe-University, Frankfurt/Main, Germany.


Dysphagia, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies, weight loss and dehydration, represents a risk factor for aspiration pneumonia. Although clinical studies have reported the occurrence of dysphagia in patients with spinocerebellar ataxia type 2 (SCA2), type 3 (SCA3), type 6 (SCA6) and type 7 (SCA7), there are neither detailed clinical records concerning the kind of ingestive malfunctions which contribute to dysphagia nor systematic pathoanatomical studies of brainstem regions involved in the ingestive process. In the present study we performed a systematic post mortem study on thick serial tissue sections through the ingestion-related brainstem nuclei of 12 dysphagic patients who suffered from clinically diagnosed and genetically confirmed spinocerebellar ataxias assigned to the CAG-repeat or polyglutamine diseases (two SCA2, seven SCA3, one SCA6 and two SCA7 patients) and evaluated their medical records. Upon pathoanatomical examination in all of the SCA2, SCA3, SCA6 and SCA7 patients, a widespread neurodegeneration of the brainstem nuclei involved in the ingestive process was found. The clinical records revealed that all of the SCA patients were diagnosed with progressive dysphagia and showed dysfunctions detrimental to the preparatory phase of the ingestive process, as well as the lingual, pharyngeal and oesophageal phases of swallowing. The vast majority of the SCA patients suffered from aspiration pneumonia, which was the most frequent cause of death in our sample. The findings of the present study suggest (i) that dysphagia in SCA2, SCA3, SCA6 and SCA7 patients may be associated with widespread neurodegeneration of ingestion-related brainstem nuclei; (ii) that dysphagic SCA2, SCA3, SCA6 and SCA7 patients may suffer from dysfunctions detrimental to all phases of the ingestive process; and (iii) that rehabilitative swallow therapy which takes specific functional consequences of the underlying brainstem lesions into account might be helpful in preventing aspiration pneumonia, weight loss and dehydration in SCA2, SCA3, SCA6 and SCA7 patients.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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