Study objectives: Idiopathic rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is a harbinger of synuclein-mediated neurodegenerative diseases. It is unknown if this also applies to isolated REM sleep without atonia (RWA). We performed a long-term follow-up investigation of subjects with isolated RWA.
Methods: Participants were recruited from 50 subjects with isolated RWA who were identified at the sleep laboratory of the Department of Neurology at the Medical University of Innsbruck between 2003 and 2005. Eligible subjects underwent follow-up clinical examination, polysomnography, and assessment of neurodegenerative biomarkers (cognitive impairment, finger speed deficit, impaired color vision, olfactory dysfunction, orthostatic hypotension, and substantia nigra hyperechogenicity).
Results: After a mean of 8.6 ± 0.9 y, 1 of 14 participating subjects (7.3%) progressed to RBD. Ten of 14 RWA subjects (71.4%) were positive for at least one neurodegenerative biomarker. Substantia nigra hyperechogenicity and presence of mild cognitive impairment were both present in 4 of 14 subjects with isolated RWA. Electromyographic activity measures increased significantly from baseline to follow-up polysomnography ("any" mentalis and both anterior tibialis muscles: 32.5 ± 9.4 versus 52.2 ± 16.6%; p = 0.004).
Conclusion: This study provides first evidence that isolated RWA is an early biomarker of synuclein-mediated neurodegeneration. These results will have to be replicated in larger studies with longer observational periods. If confirmed, these disease findings have implications for defining at-risk cohorts for Parkinson disease.
Keywords: EMG activity; REM sleep behavior disorder; SINBAR; biomarker; polysomnography.
© 2015 American Academy of Sleep Medicine.