Objectives: CANVAS is an acronym for cerebellar ataxia, neuropathy and vestibular areflexia syndrome. Limited autopsy data has suggested that CANVAS is caused by a focal dorsal root ganglionopathy that damages Scarpa's (vestibular) ganglion, but spares the Spiral (hearing) ganglion. If the vestibular areflexia of CANVAS is in fact due to ganglionopathy, then there should be global reduction of all vestibular responses.
Materials and methods: With this hypothesis in mind, a retrospective review of 5 subjects who met the clinical criteria for CANVAS was performed. Recent advances in vestibular testing have made it possible to quantify responses from all 5 vestibular end organs in the inner ear. Results of the Video head impulse test (VHIT), video oculography, caloric test and vestibular evoked myogenic potential (VEMP) were examined to determine if all 5 end organs are nonfunctional in CANVAS.
Results: Severe reduction of function of the six semicircular canals and ocular VEMPs were observed. Only the cervical VEMPs were present and reproducible, consistent with either partial sparing of the inferior vestibular ganglia, specific embryologic resistance of the saccule to the degeneration or a mechanism for cervical VEMPs that does not require an intact vestibular ganglion.
Conclusion: Our results suggest that Scarpa´s ganglia dysfunction could be the mechanism for loss of semicircular canal and utricular function in CANVAS patients, but the preservation of the cervical VEMP response is unexplained.