[A suspected case of alcoholic pellagra encephalopathy with marked response to niacin showing myoclonus and ataxia as chief complaints]

Kenji Sakai, Takashi Nakajima, Nobuyoshi Fukuhara
Nō to Shinkei, Brain and Nerve 2006, 58 (2): 141-4
We report a 47-year-old alcoholic man with alcoholic pellagra encephalopathy (APE) showing myoclonus and ataxia as chief complaints. He had been a heavy drinker for 30 years. He had noticed appetite loss and subsequently showed a subacutely progressive gait disturbance. He had no history of diarrhea, dementia, or dermatitis. On admission, he showed severe alcoholic liver cirrhosis with a large amount of ascites, limbs and truncal ataxia, myoclonus of the limbs and areflexia, although his consciousness was alert and there were no sign of dermatitis. Though the plasma level of ammonia was normal, we started administration of amino acids suspecting hepatic encephalopathy. Symptoms showed no improvement, and subsequent administration of thiamine was also ineffective. A decreased serum level of niacin was demonstrated. After administration of nicotinamide, the symptoms improved gradually. This patient received a diagnosis of APE. Endemic pellagra, characterized by the classical triad of dermatitis, diarrhea and dementia, is known to be caused by a dietary deficiency of the niacin, and has now become very rare in developed countries. At present, pellagra is encountered most often in patients with chronic alcoholism, which is called APE. APE patients often show only disturbance of consciousness. Although several reports has described ataxia and myoclonus in patients with APE, APE patients with myoclonus and ataxia as chief complaints have not previously been reported. On autopsy cases, central chromatolysis of neurons in the dentate nucleus of the cerebellum, gracile and cuneate nuclei, and the Clarke's column has been demonstrated. The APE patients would show myoclonus and ataxia as their first symptoms. In conclusion, we would like to emphasize that administration of niacin should be started for the treatment of chronic alcoholic patients showing myoclonus and ataxia even without the classical triads found in endemic pellagra patients.

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