Ataxia-telangiectasia (AT) is an autosomal recessive, multisystem disease causing cerebellar ataxia, mucocutaneous telangiectasias, immunodeficiency, and malignancies. A pilot study reported cognitive and behavioral manifestations characteristic of the cerebellar cognitive affective / Schmahmann syndrome (CCAS). We set out to test and further define these observations because a more comprehensive understanding of the spectrum of impairments in AT is essential for optimal management. Twenty patients (12 males; 9.86 ± 5.5 years, range 4.3 to 23.2) were grouped by age: AT-I (toddlers and preschoolers, n = 7, 4.3-5.9 years), AT-II (school children, n = 7, 5.9-9.8 years), AT-III (adolescents/young adults, n = 6, 12.6-23.2 years). Standard and experimental tests investigated executive, linguistic, visual-spatial, and affective/social-cognitive domains. Results were compared to standard norms and healthy controls. Cognitive changes in AT-I were limited to mild visual-spatial disorganization. Spatial deficits were greater in AT-II, with low average scores on executive function (auditory working memory), expressive language (vocabulary), academic abilities (math, spelling, reading), social cognition (affect recognition from faces), and emotional/psychological processing. Full Scale IQ scores were low average to borderline impaired. AT-III patients had the greatest level of deficits which were evident particularly in spatial skills, executive function (auditory working memory, sequencing, word/color interference, set-shifting, categorization errors, perseveration), academic achievement, social cognition (affect recognition from faces), and behavioral control. Full Scale IQ scores in this group fell in the impaired range, while language was borderline impaired for comprehension, and low average for expression. Cognitive deficits in AT at a young age are mild and limited to visual-spatial functions. More widespread cognitive difficulties emerge with age and disease progression, impacting executive function, spatial skills, affect, and social cognition. Linguistic processing remains mildly affected. Recognition of the CCAS in children with AT may facilitate therapeutic interventions to improve quality of life.
Keywords: Ataxia-telangiectasia; Behavior; CCAS; Cerebellar cognitive affective syndrome; Cognition.