Multiple system atrophy: a review of 203 pathologically proven cases

Mov Disord. 1997 Mar;12(2):133-47. doi: 10.1002/mds.870120203.


We report the clinicopathological features of 203 cases of pathologically proven multiple system atrophy (MSA) from 108 publications up to February 1995. The majority of patients showed symptoms in their early fifties, and men were more commonly affected than women (ratio of 1.3:1). Most patients suffered from some degree of autonomic failure (74%). Parkinsonism was the most common motor disorder (87%), followed by cerebellar ataxia (54%) and pyramidal signs (49%). The response to levodopa was poor in most patients, but there was a subgroup with a good response, who also often developed axial levodopa-induced dyskinesias. Other characteristic features included severe dysarthria, stridor, and, in a few patients, contractures and dystonia (antecollis). Mild or moderate intellectual impairment occurred in some cases, but severe dementing illness was most unusual. The main pathological change comprised cell loss and gliosis in the putamen, caudate nucleus, external pallidum, substantia nigra, locus ceruleus, inferior olives, pontine nuclei, cerebellar Purkinje cells, and intermediolateral cell columns of the spinal cord. However, other neuronal populations were also involved to varying degrees, such as the thalamus, vestibular nucleus, dorsal vagal nucleus, corticospinal tracts, and anterior horn cells. Characteristic glial and/or neuronal cytoplasmic inclusions were identified in all cases in which they were sought, irrespective of clinical presentation. Akinesia correlated with the degree of nigral and putaminal cell loss, whereas rigidity was related only to the later. Tremor was unrelated to cell loss at any site. Ataxia correlated with the degree of olivopontocerebellar atrophy. Pyramidal signs were associated with pyramidal tract pallor. Our analysis also confirmed an association of postural hypotension with intermediolateral cell column degeneration.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Brain / pathology
  • Corpus Striatum / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiology*
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Olivopontocerebellar Atrophies / diagnosis
  • Olivopontocerebellar Atrophies / pathology*
  • Parkinson Disease, Secondary / diagnosis
  • Parkinson Disease, Secondary / pathology
  • Shy-Drager Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Shy-Drager Syndrome / pathology*
  • Spinal Cord / pathology
  • Substantia Nigra / pathology*