What are the signs and symptoms of olivopontocerebellar atrophy (OPCA)?

Updated: Dec 17, 2018
  • Author: Sombat Muengtaweepongsa, MD, MSc; Chief Editor: Selim R Benbadis, MD  more...
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Generally, cerebellar signs and extrapyramidal signs are the predominant signs of OPCA. In addition, peripheral neuropathy is common. Ophthalmoplegia, retinopathy, and parkinsonism may be present.

Typically, the clinical manifestations of OPCA consist of a slowly progressive pancerebellar syndrome that usually begins in the lower extremities and then progresses to the upper extremities and the bulbar musculature. Usually, the initial sign in OPCA is a broad-based cerebellar ataxic gait. A parkinsonian gait is a less common but recognized variant.

Cerebellar dysarthria is also common. The patient's speech has a poorly modulated and slurred quality, similar to that of a person intoxicated with alcohol. Other cerebellar findings include nystagmus, dysmetria on finger-to-nose testing, and ataxia on heel-to-shin testing.

The entire spectrum of cerebellar ocular motility disorders can occur in persons with OPCA. Nystagmus, slow saccades, and abnormal fundoscopic examination findings are present in varying degrees. Hyperactive vestibulo-ocular reflex also has been reported. In some cases, limitation of extraocular movements, particularly of upward gaze, is also present. This nuclear or supranuclear ophthalmoplegia occurs more frequently in familial OPCA than in sporadic OPCA. Retinal degeneration may be present.

Parkinsonian symptoms with cogwheel rigidity, bradykinesia, and tremor may be the predominant picture in some cases of OPCA. In these cases, distinguishing OPCA from Parkinson disease may be difficult.

The pyramidal finding that is most uniformly present is a bilateral extensor plantar response. Hyperactive deep tendon reflexes and spasticity due to pyramidal tract dysfunction are present early in the course of the disease. These are often lost later, especially the ankle jerks, as part of a concomitant peripheral neuropathy.

Position sense and vibratory function are reduced secondary to neuropathy.

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