Clinical and pathology characterization of small nerve fiber neuro(no)pathy in cerebellar ataxia with neuropathy and vestibular areflexia syndrome

Eur J Neurol. 2023 Dec;30(12):3834-3841. doi: 10.1111/ene.16018. Epub 2023 Aug 13.


Background and purpose: Biallelic mutation/expansion of the gene RFC1 has been described in association with a spectrum of manifestations ranging from isolated sensory neuro(no)pathy to a complex presentation as cerebellar ataxia with neuropathy and vestibular areflexia syndrome (CANVAS). Our aim was to define the frequency and characteristics of small fiber neuropathy (SFN) in RFC1 disease at different stages.

Methods: RFC1 cases were screened for SFN using the Neuropathic Pain Symptom Inventory and Composite Autonomic Symptom Score 31 questionnaires. Clinical data were retrospectively collected. If available, lower limb skin biopsy samples were evaluated for somatic epidermal and autonomic subepidermal structure innervation and compared to healthy controls (HCs).

Results: Forty patients, median age at onset 54 years (interquartile range [IQR] 49-61) and disease duration 10 years (IQR 6-16), were enrolled. Mild-to-moderate positive symptoms (median Neuropathic Pain Symptom Inventory score 12.1/50, IQR 5.5-22.3) and relevant autonomic disturbances (median Composite Autonomic Symptom Score 31 37.0/100, IQR 17.7-44.3) were frequently reported and showed scarce correlation with disease duration. A non-length-dependent impairment in nociception was evident in both clinical and paraclinical investigations. An extreme somatic denervation was observed in all patients at both proximal (fibers/mm, RFC1 cases 0.0 vs. HCs 20.5, p < 0.0001) and distal sites (fibers/mm, RFC1 cases 0.0 vs. HCs 13.1, p < 0.0001); instead only a slight decrease was observed in cholinergic and adrenergic innervation of autonomic structures.

Conclusions: RFC1 disease is characterized by a severe and widespread somatic SFN. Skin denervation may potentially represent the earliest feature and drive towards the suspicion of this disorder.

Keywords: dysautonomia; familial; humans; neuropathic pain; nociception; replication factor C, subunit 1; skin/pathology; small fiber neuropathy.

MeSH terms

  • Bilateral Vestibulopathy* / complications
  • Cerebellar Ataxia* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Fibers
  • Neuralgia*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Small Fiber Neuropathy*