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Frequency and Phenotype of RFC1 Repeat Expansions in Bilateral Vestibulopathy.

Neurology 2023 September 6
BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Bilateral vestibulopathy (BVP) is a chronic debilitating neurologic disorder with no monogenic cause established so far despite familiar presentations. We hypothesized that replication factor complex subunit 1 (RFC1) repeat expansions might present a recurrent monogenic cause of BVP.

METHODS: The study involved RFC1 screening and in-depth neurologic, vestibulo-oculomotor, and disease evolution phenotyping of 168 consecutive patients with idiopathic at least "probable BVP" from a tertiary referral center for balance disorders, with127 of them meeting current diagnostic criteria of BVP (Bárány Society Classification).

RESULTS: Biallelic AAGGG repeat expansions in RFC1 were identified in 10/127 patients (8%) with BVP and 1/41 with probable BVP. Heterozygous expansions in 10/127 patients were enriched compared with those in reference populations. RFC1-related BVP manifested at a median age of 60 years (range 34-72 years) and co-occurred predominantly with mild polyneuropathy (10/11). Additional cerebellar involvement (7/11) was subtle and limited to oculomotor signs in early stages, below recognition of classic cerebellar ataxia, neuropathy, and vestibular areflexia syndrome. Clear dysarthria, appendicular ataxia, or cerebellar atrophy developed 6-8 years after onset. Dysarthria, absent patellar reflexes, and downbeat nystagmus best discriminated RFC1-positive BVP from RFC1-negative BVP, but neither sensory symptoms nor fine motor problems. Video head impulse gains of patients with RFC1-positive BVP were lower relative to those of patients with RFC1-negative BVP and decreased until 10 years disease duration, indicating a potential progression and outcome marker for RFC1-disease.

DISCUSSION: This study identifies RFC1 as the first-and frequent-monogenic cause of BVP. It characterizes RFC1-related BVP as part of the multisystemic evolution of RFC1 spectrum disease, with implications for designing natural history studies and future treatment trials.

CLASSIFICATION OF EVIDENCE: This study provides Class II evidence that RFC1 repeat expansions cause BVP.

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