Twenty-six patients suffering from autosomal dominant cerebellar ataxia type I were subjected to a genotype-phenotype correlation analysis using molecular genetic assignment to the genetic loci for spinocerebellar ataxia type 1, 2 or 3 (SCA1, SCA2, SCA3) and MRI-based volumetry of posterior fossa structures and basal ganglia nuclei. There was significant atrophy of the cerebellum and brainstem in all three SCA mutations compared with a group of 31 age- and sex-matched controls. Comparison between the SCA groups showed that cerebellar and brainstem atrophy was more severe in SCA2 than in SCA1 and SCA3. Putaminal and caudate volume was reduced only in SCA3, but not in SCA1 and SCA2. A set of three morphological criteria was defined that enabled us to assign all SCA2 and SCA3 patients correctly to the underlying genotype. In contrast, these criteria did not distinguish SCA1 from SCA2 and SCA3. Regression analysis failed to reveal a significant association between CAG repeat length and the volumes of the respective brain structures in any of the SCA mutant types. The present data provide in vivo evidence that SCA2 and SCA3 lead to distinct patterns of brain atrophy, while the atrophy changes in SCA1 overlap with both SCA2 and SCA3.
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