Quantitative studies of dorsal root ganglia and neuropathologic observations on spinal cords in familial dysautonomia

J Pearson, B A Pytel, N Grover-Johnson, F Axelrod, J Dancis
Journal of the Neurological Sciences 1978, 35 (1): 77-92
Intrauterine development and postnatal maintenance of dorsal root ganglion neurons are abnormal in familial dysautonomia, an autosomal recessive disorder associated with autonomic, motor and sensory deficits. Normally, dorsal root ganglion weight increases with age. This does not occur in the cervical plexus ganglia of dysautonomic patients. Neurons in dorsal root ganglia are found to be markedly diminished in the youngest patients and slow degeneration causes further depletion with age. Quantitative studies on C8 dorsal root ganglia show the normal neuron content to be between 42,500 and 53,600. In 3 patients with familial dysautonomia the range was 4,090-8,590 with the smallest number being in the oldest patient. Lateral root entry zones and Lissauer's tracts are severely depleted of axons. In older patients loss of dorsal column myelinated axons becomes evident and is first seen in lumbar fasciculus gracilis, cervical fasciculus cuneatus and interfascicular fasciculus. Temperature sensation is markedly impaired from infancy in familial dysautonomia. Loss of pain sensation is prominent and worsens with age. Vibration sense diminishes in adolescence and coordination of limb movements becomes poor in older patients. Neuron depletion in dorsal root ganglia and the progressive pattern of cord changes correlate well with these clinical observations.

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