Infantile-onset spinocerebellar ataxia (IOSCA) is a hereditary neurological disorder with early and severe involvement of both the peripheral and central nervous systems. It has only been described in Finnish families.
So far, 24 cases have been reported. In Finland, IOSCA has a population carrier frequency of more than 1:230.
IOSCA is characterized by very early ataxia, athetosis and reduced tendon reflexes (between 9 and 18 months of age). Ophthalmoplegia and sensorineural hearing loss are diagnosed in childhood. Other features, such as optic atrophy and sensory neuropathy with progressive loss of myelinated fibers in the sural nerve, appear later in the disease course. Hypogonadism may occur in females. Some patients show intellectual deficit. Epilepsy is a late manifestation and seizures may be life-threatening.
IOSCA is caused by mutations in the C10orf2 gene (10q24) encoding the mitochondrial helicase Twinkle. The c.1523A>G (p.Y508C) causative mutation has been postulated to be a founder mutation. Twenty-one of the reported patients were homozygous for this mutation, and three were compound heterozygotes: c.952G>A/c.1523A>G (two patients) and c.1523A>G/c.1287C>T (one patient). The mutations lead to mtDNA depletion in the brain and the liver, but not in the muscle.
The diagnosis is based on clinical and pathological findings. Studies of sural nerve biopsies reveal an early and rapidly progressive axonal neuropathy. Neuroimaging studies revealing cerebellar atrophy and genetic testing for the c.1523A>G mutation may also help to confirm the diagnosis.
Differential diagnoses include early-onset cerebellar ataxias with sensory axonal neuropathy and epileptic encephalopathy, mitochondrial disorders with axonal neuropathy (such as Friedreich ataxia), progressive external ophthalmoplegia (PEO), juvenile- or adult-onset mitochondrial recessive ataxia syndrome (MIRAS), and POLG-related disorders (see theseterms).
Prenatal testing may be available for families in which the disease-causing mutations have already been identified.
IOSCA is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner. Genetic counseling is an important clinical tool for preventing new cases, especially for couples with an affected first child: the risk of having an affected child in further pregnancies is 25%.
IOSCA patients are often managed by a multidisciplinary team, involving a pediatrician, neurologist, psychiatrist, orthopedic surgeon, physical and occupational therapists, genetic counselor, and social worker. Treatment is symptomatic and may include: (1) hearing aids, speech therapy and sign language for deafness; (2) physical therapy, orthotic devices and orthopedic surgery for sensory axonal neuropathy; (3) walking aids, a wheelchair, physiotherapy and occupational therapy for ataxia; (4) antiepileptic drugs for seizures and (5) antipsychotics and antidepressants for psychiatric symptoms.
Prognosis is unfavorable. Patients are wheelchair-bound by adolescence. Early death is common due to severe seizures. The clinical course seems to be more rapid and severe (with death during infancy) in c.952G>A/ c.1523A>G compound heterozygotes.
Last update: April 2009
- Dr Carmen ESPINÓS
- Pr Francesc PALAU