Adult-onset cerebello-brainstem dominant form of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy presenting as multiple system atrophy: case report and literature review

Neuropathology. 2016 Feb;36(1):64-76. doi: 10.1111/neup.12230. Epub 2015 Jul 31.


X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD) is the most common peroxisomal disorder and is caused by ABCD1 mutations. A cerebello-brainstem dominant form that mainly involves the cerebellum and brainstem is summarized in a review of the literature, with autopsy-confirmed cases exceedingly rare. We report a 69-year-old White man who was diagnosed with this rare disorder and describe neuropathologic, ultrastructural and genetic analyses. He did not have adrenal insufficiency or a family history of X-ALD or Addison's disease. His initial symptom was temporary loss of eyesight at age 34 years. His major symptoms were chronic and progressive gait disorder, weakness in his lower extremities and spasticity, as well as autonomic failure and cerebellar ataxia suggesting possible multiple system atrophy (MSA). He also had seizures, hearing loss and sensory disturbances. His brain MRI showed no obvious atrophy or significant white matter pathology in cerebrum, brainstem or cerebellum. He died at age 69 years with a diagnosis of MSA. Microscopic analysis showed mild, patchy myelin rarefaction with perivascular clusters of PAS-positive, CD68-positive macrophages in the white matter most prominent in the cerebellum and occipital lobe, but also affecting the optic tract and internal capsule. Electron microscopy of cerebellar white matter showed cleft-like trilamellar cytoplasmic inclusions in macrophages typical of X-ALD, which prompted genetic analysis that revealed a novel ABCD1 mutation, p.R163G. Given the relatively mild pathological findings and long disease duration, it is likely that the observed pathology was the result of a slow and indolent disease process. We described a patient who had sporadic cerebello-brainstem dominant form of X-ALD with long clinical course, mild pathological findings, and an ABCD1 p.R163G substitution. We also review a total of 34 cases of adult-onset cerebello-brainstem dominant form of X-ALD. Although rare, X-ALD should be considered in the differential diagnosis of MSA.

Keywords: ABCD1; adrenoleukodystrophy; cerebello-brainstem dominant formmultiple system atrophy; olivopontocerebellar atrophy.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily D, Member 1
  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / genetics
  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / metabolism
  • Adrenoleukodystrophy / pathology*
  • Aged
  • Antigens, CD / genetics
  • Antigens, Differentiation, Myelomonocytic / genetics
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain Stem / pathology*
  • Cerebellum / pathology*
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Multiple System Atrophy / pathology*
  • Mutation / genetics


  • ABCD1 protein, human
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily D, Member 1
  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters
  • Antigens, CD
  • Antigens, Differentiation, Myelomonocytic
  • CD68 antigen, human