Head impulse testing in bilateral vestibulopathy in patients with genetically defined CANVAS

Brain Behav. 2022 Jun;12(6):e32546. doi: 10.1002/brb3.2546. Epub 2022 May 2.


Background: To investigate the association between disease duration and the severity of bilateral vestibulopathy in individuals with complete or incomplete CANVAS (Cerebellar Ataxia with Neuropathy and Vestibular Areflexia Syndrome) and biallelic RFC1 repeat expansions.

Methods: Retrospective analysis of clinical data and the vestibulo-ocular reflex quantified by the video head impulse test in 20 patients with confirmed biallelic RFC1 repeat expansions.

Results: Vestibulo-ocular reflex gain at first admittance 6.9 ± 5.0 years after disease onset was 0.16 [0.15-0.31] (median [interquartile range]). Cross-sectional analysis revealed that gain reduction was associated with disease duration. Follow-up measurements were available for ten individuals: eight of them exhibited a progressive decrease of the vestibulo-ocular reflex gain over time. At the first visit, six of all patients (30%) did not show clinical signs of cerebellar ataxia.

Conclusions: Our data suggest a pathological horizontal head impulse test, which can easily be obtained in many outpatient clinics, as a sign of bilateral vestibulopathy in genetically confirmed CANVAS that can precede clinically accessible cerebellar ataxia at least in a subset of patients. The presumably continuous decline over time possibly reflects the neurodegenerative character of the disease. Thus, genetic testing for RFC1 mutations in (isolated) bilateral vestibulopathy might allow disease detection before the onset of cerebellar signs. Further studies including a wider spectrum of vestibular function tests are warranted in a prospective design.

Keywords: CANVAS; RFC1; ataxia; bilateral vestibulopathy; vestibulo-ocular reflex; video head impulse test.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bilateral Vestibulopathy* / complications
  • Bilateral Vestibulopathy* / diagnosis
  • Bilateral Vestibulopathy* / genetics
  • Cerebellar Ataxia*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reflex, Vestibulo-Ocular
  • Retrospective Studies