Neuropathology of SCA34 showing widespread oligodendroglial pathology with vacuolar white matter degeneration: a case study

Acta Neuropathol Commun. 2021 Oct 24;9(1):172. doi: 10.1186/s40478-021-01272-w.


Spinocerebellar ataxia type 34 (SCA34) is an autosomal dominant inherited ataxia due to mutations in ELOVL4, which encodes one of the very long-chain fatty acid elongases. SCA38, another spinocerebellar ataxia, is caused by mutations in ELOVL5, a gene encoding another elongase. However, there have been no previous studies describing the neuropathology of either SCA34 or 38. This report describes the neuropathological findings of an 83-year-old man with SCA34 carrying a pathological ELOVL4 mutation (NM_022726, c.736T>G, p.W246G). Macroscopic findings include atrophies in the pontine base, cerebellum, and cerebral cortices. Microscopically, marked neuronal and pontocerebellar fiber loss was observed in the pontine base. In addition, in the pontine base, accumulation of CD68-positive macrophages laden with periodic acid-Schiff (PAS)-positive material was observed. Many vacuolar lesions were found in the white matter of the cerebral hemispheres and, to a lesser extent, in the brainstem and spinal cord white matter. Immunohistological examination and ultrastructural observations with an electron microscope suggest that these vacuolar lesions are remnants of degenerated oligodendrocytes. Electron microscopy also revealed myelin sheath destruction. Unexpectedly, aggregation of the four-repeat tau was observed in a spatial pattern reminiscent of progressive supranuclear palsy. The tau lesions included glial fibrillary tangles resembling tuft-shaped astrocytes and neurofibrillary tangles and pretangles. This is the first report to illustrate that a heterozygous missense mutation in ELOVL4 leads to neuronal loss accompanied by macrophages laden with PAS-positive material in the pontine base and oligodendroglial degeneration leading to widespread vacuoles in the white matter in SCA34.

Keywords: Fatty acid elongase; Four-repeat tau; Neuropathology; Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP); Spinocerebellar ataxia type 34 (SCA34); Tauopathy; Tuft shaped astrocytes; Very long-chain fatty acids (VLCFA).

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Eye Proteins / genetics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Mutation, Missense
  • Nerve Degeneration / genetics
  • Nerve Degeneration / pathology*
  • Oligodendroglia / pathology*
  • Spinocerebellar Ataxias / genetics
  • Spinocerebellar Ataxias / pathology*
  • Vacuoles / pathology
  • White Matter / pathology*


  • ELOVL4 protein, human
  • Eye Proteins
  • Membrane Proteins