The prodromal phase of hereditary spastic paraplegia type 4: the preSPG4 cohort study

Brain. 2023 Mar 1;146(3):1093-1102. doi: 10.1093/brain/awac155.


This cohort study aimed to characterize the prodromal phase of hereditary spastic paraplegia type 4 (SPG4) using biomarkers and clinical signs and symptoms that develop before manifest gait abnormalities. Fifty-six first-degree relatives at risk of developing SPG4 underwent blinded genotyping and standardized phenotyping, including the Spastic Paraplegia Rating Scale (SPRS), complicating symptoms, non-motor affection, Three-Minute Walk, and neurophysiological assessment. Automated MR image analysis was used to compare volumetric properties. CSF of 33 probands was analysed for neurofilament light chain (NfL), tau, and amyloid-β (Aβ). Thirty participants turned out to be SPAST mutation carriers, whereas 26 did not inherit a SPAST mutation. Increased reflexes, ankle clonus, and hip abduction weakness were more frequent in prodromal mutation carriers but were also observed in non-mutation carriers. Only Babinski's sign differentiated reliably between the two groups. Timed walk and non-motor symptoms did not differ between groups. Whereas most mutation carriers had total SPRS scores of 2 points or more, only two non-mutation carriers reached more than 1 point. Motor evoked potentials revealed no differences between mutation and non-mutation carriers. We found NfL but not tau or Aβ to rise in CSF of mutation carriers when approaching the time point of predicted disease manifestation. Serum NfL did not differ between groups. Volumetric MRI analyses did not reveal group differences apart from a smaller cingulate gyrus in mutation carriers. This study depicts subtle clinical signs which develop before gait abnormalities in SPG4. Long-term follow-up is needed to study the evolution of SPG4 in the prodromal stage and conversion into manifest disease. NfL in CSF is a promising fluid biomarker that may indicate disease activity in prodromal SPG4 but needs further evaluation in longitudinal studies.

Keywords: NfL; SPG4; hereditary spastic paraplegia; neurofilament light chain; preSPG4 study; prodromal phase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / genetics
  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Paraplegia / genetics
  • Spastic Paraplegia, Hereditary* / genetics
  • Spastin / genetics


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Spastin
  • SPAST protein, human

Supplementary concepts

  • Spastic Paraplegia Type 4