Heterotopic Purkinje Cells: a Comparative Postmortem Study of Essential Tremor and Spinocerebellar Ataxias 1, 2, 3, and 6

Cerebellum. 2018 Apr;17(2):104-110. doi: 10.1007/s12311-017-0876-3.


Essential tremor (ET) is among the most common neurological diseases. Postmortem studies have noted a series of pathological changes in the ET cerebellum. Heterotopic Purkinje cells (PCs) are those whose cell body is mis-localized in the molecular layer. In neurodegenerative settings, these are viewed as a marker of the progression of neuronal degeneration. We (1) quantify heterotopias in ET cases vs. controls, (2) compare ET cases to other cerebellar degenerative conditions (spinocerebellar ataxias (SCAs) 1, 2, 3, and 6), (3) compare these SCAs to one another, and (4) assess heterotopia within the context of associated PC loss in each disease. Heterotopic PCs were quantified using a standard LH&E-stained section of the neocerebellum. Counts were normalized to PC layer length (n-heterotopia count). It is also valuable to consider PC counts when assessing heterotopia, as loss of PCs extends both to normally located as well as heterotopic PCs. Therefore, we divided n-heterotopias by PC counts. There were 96 brains (43 ET, 31 SCA [12 SCA1, 7 SCA2, 7 SCA3, 5 SCA6], and 22 controls). The median number of n-heterotopias in ET cases was two times higher than that of the controls (2.6 vs. 1.2, p < 0.05). The median number of n-heterotopias in the various SCAs formed a spectrum, with counts being highest in SCA3 and SCA1. In analyses that factored in PC counts, ET had a median n-heterotopia/Purkinje cell count that was three times higher than the controls (0.35 vs. 0.13, p < 0.01), and SCA1 and SCA2 had counts that were 5.5 and 11 times higher than the controls (respective p < 0.001). The median n-heterotopia/PC count in ET was between that of the controls and the SCAs. Similarly, the median PC count in ET was between that of the controls and the SCAs; the one exception was SCA3, in which the PC population is well known to be preserved. Heterotopia is a disease-associated feature of ET. In comparison, several of the SCAs evidenced even more marked heterotopia, although a spectrum existed across the SCAs. The median n-heterotopia/PC count and median PC in ET was between that of the controls and the SCAs; hence, in this regard, ET could represent an intermediate state or a less advanced state of spinocerebellar atrophy.

Keywords: Cerebellum; Essential tremor; Heterotopia; Neurodegenerative; Pathology; Purkinje cell; Spinocerebellar ataxia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Autopsy
  • Choristoma / pathology*
  • Diagnosis
  • Essential Tremor / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Purkinje Cells / pathology*
  • Spinocerebellar Ataxias / classification
  • Spinocerebellar Ataxias / pathology*