New gene discovery published in New England Journal of Medicine

Disease-causing genetic mutation finding to impact thousands of patients world-wide
NEDLANDS, Australia - Dec. 14, 2022 - PRLog -- The genetic cause of a brain disease that leads to vertigo, speech difficulties and loss of coordination, and which can leave patients dependent on wheelchairs, has evaded scientists for decades.

However, geneticists have found a genetic link that explains a large percentage of the undiagnosed adult-onset neurodegenerative disease, Cerebellar Ataxia.

The mutation, which is similar to the type that triggers Huntington's disease, causes a significant proportion of currently unsolved adult-onset ataxia, a term that describes poor muscle control.

The Perth team involved in the international collaboration was led by Associate Professor Gina Ravenscroft at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

"This discovery will likely lead to an accurate genetic diagnosis for many patients and families who do not know what is causing their challenging, life affecting symptoms. It is also likely other genetically undiagnosed ataxia patients will have other, yet to be found, similar mutations," she said.

Clinical lead in the research, Professor Phillipa Lamont at Royal Perth Hospital says patients long to know what it is they are suffering from.

"Finding the cause of a patient's disease is very important for several reasons. An accurate diagnosis gives the patient an assurance that some more treatable cause is not being missed.

"They also can be advised what the future may hold for them and make plans. It allows them to have reproductive choices if they are of child-bearing age, and although there is no treatment for this condition at the moment, all the treatments we have for other genetic diseases that are emerging rely completely on knowing exactly what genetic change has caused the disease," Professor Lamont said.

Triggers for disease episodes in people with the genetic mutation include alcohol and exercise.

Patient, Leslie Kelly (69) a trainer in gold processing plants had to leave the workforce after experiencing falls which fractured his spine and broke his wrist.

"I found it very hard to settle into retirement at a young age, but I couldn't get work, no insurer would insure me because of my loss of balance," he said.

Professor Lamont says "patients with this newly found mutation can have symptoms triggered by just walking quickly over short distances. Over time these symptoms become permanent. Most ataxic patients also find alcohol worsens their symptoms, and as the same brain cells are attacked by both the alcohol and the genetic defect, it is important to avoid alcohol."

"This discovery will help thousands of patients world-wide to finally receive an accurate diagnosis of their condition and help them to modify their lifestyle as much as they can".

Miriam Borthwick
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