Cerebellar Degeneration in Adult Spinal Muscular Atrophy Patients

J Neurol. 2020 May 10. doi: 10.1007/s00415-020-09875-4. Online ahead of print.


Background: Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a genetic motor neuron disease related to deletions in the SMN1 gene. There is mounting evidence that the disease is not restricted to motor neurons. In this neuroimaging study, we aimed to investigate the presence of in-vivo cerebellar damage in adult SMA patients not treated with disease-modifying treatment.

Methods: Twenty-five molecularly confirmed patients with SMA type III or IV and 25 healthy controls underwent MRI with cerebellar focused structural analysis by the CERES automated pipeline. Volumetry (total and gray matter-GM) as well as cortical thickness of the cerebellar lobules were compared in both groups. Full clinical and demographic data were then assessed for correlations with cerebellar imaging findings.

Results: Volumes of cerebellar lobules VIIIB (right), IX and X were significantly smaller in patients with SMA. Lobule IX also had GM atrophy in comparison to controls. We found no significant correlation between clinical findings and cerebellar damage.

Conclusions: Neuroimaging detects cerebellar structural changes in adult SMA patients, suggesting that neurodegeneration is not confined to the lower motor neurons in the disease.

Keywords: CERES; Cerebellum MRI; SMA; Spinal muscular atrophy.