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Diagnosis and Treatment of Multiple System Atrophy: an Update
the common parkinsonian variant (MSA-P) from PD. In This review provides an update on the diagnosis a clinicopathologic study1, primary neurologists (who and therapy of multiple system atrophy (MSA), a followed up the patients clinically) identified only 25% of sporadic neurodegenerative disorder characterised MSA patients at the first visit (42 months after disease clinically by any combination of parkinsonian, auto- onset) and even at their last neurological follow-up (74 nomic, cerebellar or pyramidal symptoms and signs months after disease onset), half of the patients were still and pathologically by cell loss, gliosis and glial cyto- misdiagnosed with the correct diagnosis in the other half plasmic inclusions in several brain and spinal cord being established on average 4 years after disease onset.
structures. The term MSA was introduced in 1969 Mean rater sensitivity for movement disorder specialists although prior to this cases of MSA were reported was higher but still suboptimal at the first (56%) and last Gregor Wenning
obtained an MD at the
under the rubrics of striatonigral degeneration, olivo- (69%) visit. In 1998 an International Consensus pontocerebellar atrophy, Shy-Drager syndrome and Conference promoted by the American Academy of idiopathic orthostatic hypotension. In the late Neurology was convened to develop new and optimised nineties, _-synuclein immunostaining was recognised criteria for a clinical diagnosis of MSA2, which are now of London in 1996. Hereceived his neurology as the most sensitive marker of inclusion pathology in widely used by neurologists. These criteria specify three MSA: due to these advances in molecular pathogene- diagnostic categories of increasing certainty: possible, sis, MSA has been firmly established as an probable and definite (Table 1). The diagnosis of possible _-synucleinopathy along with Parkinson’s disease and probable MSA are based on the presence of clinical holds a professorship atthe Department of (PD) and dementia with Lewy bodies. Recent epi- features listed in Table 1, with clear exclusion demiological surveys have shown that MSA is not a criteria. A definite diagnosis requires a typical neu- rare disorder (~5 cases per 100,000 population), and ropathological lesion pattern as well as deposition of that misdiagnosis, especially with PD, is still common _-synuclein-positive glial cytoplasmic inclusions3 (Fig. 2).
due to its variable clinical presentation. The diagnosis However, whether the Consensus criteria will improve of MSA is largely based on clinical expertise, and this recognition of MSA patients especially in early disease is well illustrated by the consensus diagnostic criteria stages needs to be investigated by prospective surveys which comprise clinical features only (divided into with neuropathological confirmation in as many cases as four domains including autonomic dysfunction, parkinsonism, cerebellar dysfunction and corti- MSA usually manifests in middle age (the median age cospinal tract dysfunction). Nevertheless, several auto- of onset is 53), affects both sexes equally, and progresses nomic function, imaging, neurophysiological and bio- relentlessly with a mean survival of 6-9 years. MSA chemical studies have been proposed in the last decade patients may present with akinetic-rigid parkinsonism to help in the differential diagnosis of MSA. No drug that usually responds poorly to levodopa, and whilst this treatment consistently benefits patients with this dis- has been identified as the most important early clinical ease. Indeed, parkinsonism often shows a poor or discriminator of MSA and PD, a subgroup of MSA unsustained response to chronic levodopa therapy patients may show a good or, rarely, excellent, but usually Felix Geser received his
although one third of the patients may show an initial short-lived, response to levodopa. In patients presenting moderate-to-good dopaminergic response. There is initially with pure isolated parkinsonism, the presence of no effective drug treatment for the cerebellar ataxia.
atypical features that are usually absent in PD (so-called On the other hand, features of autonomic failure such red flags) may alert the clinician towards MSA (Table 2).
as orthostatic hypotension, urinary retention or Progressive ataxia, mainly involving gait, may also be the incontinence, constipation and impotence, may often presenting feature of MSA4;5, and appears to be more be relieved if recognised by the treating physician.
common than the parkinsonian variant in Japan com- Novel symptomatic and neuroprotective therapies are pared to Western countries6. Autonomic failure with history of MSA withinthe framework of theEuropean MSA Study Introduction
The clinical picture of multiple system atrophy (MSA) inits full blown form is distinctive (Fig. 1). The patient ishypomimic with orofacial and anterior neck dystoniaresulting in a grinning smile akin to ‘risus sardonicus’ andsometimes disproportionate antecollis. The voice is oftenmarkedly impaired with a characteristic quivering high-pitched dysarthria. The motor disorder of MSA is oftenmixed with parkinsonism, cerebellar ataxia, limbdystonia, myoclonus and pyramidal features occurring atthe same time. However, akinesia and rigidity are thepredominant features in 80% of patients, and cerebellarataxia within the remaining 20% and according to thepredominant motor presentation MSA patients may belabelled as either parkinsonian or cerebellar variant ofMSA (MSA-P, MSA-C). Dysautonomia is characteristic ofboth MSA subtypes, primarily comprising urogenital and Figure 1: A patient with MSA with hypomimia, asymmetric orofacial
dystonia more marked on the left and cervical dystonia affecting theplatysma. The patient had a very distinctive quivering, strangled high- Clinical diagnosis and clinical diagnostic criteria
pitched dysarthria as is seen in 80% of MSA patients.
Reproduced with kind permission from John Wiley & Sons, Inc: Wenning et al., The clinical diagnosis of MSA is fraught with difficulty The risus sardonicus of MSA. Mov Disord 2003;18:1211. and there are no pathognomonic features to discriminate ACNR • VOLUME 3 NUMBER 6 JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2004 symptomatic orthostatic hypotension and/or urogenital improving early morning hypotension. This approach is and gastrointestinal disturbances may accompany the especially successful in combination with fludrocorti- motor disorder in up to 50% of patients at disease onset.
sone, which further supports sodium retention.
MSA is a progressive disease characterised by the The next group of drugs to consider are the sympath- gradual accumulation of disability reflecting involvement omimetics. These include ephedrine (with both direct of the systems initially unaffected. So for example, and indirect effects), although at higher doses side effects patients who present initially with extrapyramidal develop including tremulousness, loss of appetite, and features commonly progress to develop autonomic disturbances, cerebellar disorders, or both. In a recent Among the large number of vasoactive agents that have large study on 230 cases carried out in Japan, MSA-P been evaluated in MSA only one, the directly acting _- patients had more rapid functional deterioration than adrenergic agonist midodrine, meets the criteria of MSA-C patients, but showed similar survival6.
evidence based medicine8,9. Side effects are usually mildand only rarely lead to discontinuation of treatment Investigations
because of urinary retention or pruritus, predominantly The diagnosis of MSA still rests on the clinical history and neurological examination. Attempts have been made, Another promising drug appears to be the norepineph- however, to improve diagnostic accuracy through analysis rine precursor L-threo-dihydroxyphenylserine (L-threo- of CSF and serum biomarkers, autonomic function tests, DOPS), which has been used for this indication in Japan structural and functional neuroimaging and neurophysi- for years and the efficacy of which has now been shown ological techniques7. Typical results that may be obtained by a recent open, dose finding trial10.
using these various investigational tools are summarised If the above mentioned drugs do not produce the desired effects, selective targeting is needed. The somato-statin analogue octreotide is often beneficial in postpran- Treatment
dial hypotension, presumably because it inhibits release of vasodilatory gastrointestinal peptides and importantly Unfortunately there is currently no curative therapy for it does not enhance nocturnal hypertension11.
autonomic dysfunction and so the therapeutic strategy is The vasopressin analogue, desmopressin, which acts on symptomatic and determined by the extent of impair- renal tubular vasopressin-2 receptors, reduces nocturnal ment of the quality of life in these patients. In all cases it polyuria and improves morning postural hypotension.
is important to remember that the progressive course of The peptide erythropoietin may be beneficial in some MSA means that a regular review of the treatment is patients by raising red cell mass, secondarily improving mandatory to adjust measures according to clinical needs.
The rationale in treating the symptoms of orthostatic A broad range of drugs (Table 4) have been tried in the hypotension is based on increasing the intravascular treatment of postural hypotension, but the value and side volume with a reduction of volume shift to lower body effects of many of these have not been adequately deter- parts when changing to an upright position. The selection mined in MSA patients using appropriate endpoints.
and combination of therapies depends on the severity of In the management of neurogenic bladder (including symptoms in the individual patient, rather than the measurements of residual urine volumes) clean intermit- extent of blood pressure drop during a tilt test.
tent catheterisation 3 to 4 times per day is a widely accept- The simplest non-pharmacological options include ed approach to prevent the secondary consequences of sufficient fluid intake, high salt diet, more frequent along poor micturition. It may be necessary, in some cases, to with smaller meals per day to reduce postprandial provide the patient with a permanent transcutaneous hypotension (by spreading the total carbohydrate intake) suprapubic catheter if mechanical obstruction in the ure- and custom made elastic body garments. During the thra or motor symptoms of MSA prevent uncomplicated night, head-up tilt increases the intravascular volume by up to 1L within a week, which is particularly helpful in Pharmacological options with cholinergic agonists or antagonists or _–adrenergic substances are usually notsuccessful in reducing postvoid residual volume in MSA,but anticholinergic agents like oxybutynin can improvesymptoms of detrusor hyperreflexia or sphincter-detru-sor dyssynergy in the early course of the disease. Recently,_-adrenergic receptor antagonists (prazosin and moxisy-lyte) have been shown to improve voiding with reductionof residual volumes in MSA patients12. Urological surgerymust be avoided in these patients because post-operativeworsening of bladder control is common.
The necessity of a specific treatment for sexual dys- function needs to be evaluated individually in each MSApatient. Male impotence can be partially circumvented bythe use of intracavernosal papaverine, prostaglandin E1or penile implants. Preliminary evidence in PD patients13suggests that sildenafil may also be successful in treatingerectile failure in MSA: a recent trial confirmed theefficacy of this compound in MSA, but also suggestedcaution because of the frequent cardiovascular side- Figure 2: _-synuclein immunostaining reveals GCIs in subcortical white effects14. Erectile failure in MSA may also be improved by ACNR • VOLUME 3 NUMBER 6 JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2004 Constipation can be relieved by increasing the intralu- (PEG). Occupational therapy helps to limit the handicap minal volume which may be achieved by using resulting from the patient's disabilities and should includea macrogol-water-solution.
a home visit. Provision of a wheelchair is usually dictated Inspiratory stridor develops in about 30% of patients.
by the liability to falls because of postural instability and Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) may be help- gait ataxia but not by akinesia and rigidity per se.
ful in some of these patients. In only about 4% of cases is Psychological support for patients and partners needs to Motor disorder
Parkinsonism is the predominant motor disorder in MSA Because the results of drug treatment for the motor disor- and therefore represents a major target for therapeutic der of MSA are generally poor, other therapies are all the intervention. Although less effective than in PD and more important. Physiotherapy helps maintain mobility despite the lack of randomised controlled trials, levodopa and prevents contractures, and speech therapy can replacement represents the mainstay of antiparkinsonian improve speech and swallowing and provide communica- therapy in MSA. Open label studies suggest that up to 30- tion aids. Dysphagia may require feeding via a nasogastric 40% of MSA patients may derive benefit from levodopa at tube or even percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy least transiently15;16. Occasionally, a beneficial effect is evi- Table 1: Guidelines established by the American Autonomic Society and the American Academy of Neurology for the
clinical diagnosis of MSA. Modified from Gilman et al.2
A. Nomenclature of clinical domains, features (disease characteristics) and criteria (defining features or composite of
features) used in the diagnosis of MSA

Criterion Feature
15 mmHg diastolic)orPersistent urinary incontinence speed and amplitude of voluntarymovements during repetitive actions) Criterion for parkinsonism plus two features from separate other domains. Apoor levodopa response qualifies already as one feature, hence only one additional feature is required.
Criterion for cerebellar dysfunction plus two features from separate other domains.
Criterion for autonomic failure/urinary dysfunction plus poorly levodoparesponsive parkinsonism.
Criterion for autonomic failure/urinary dysfunction plus cerebellar dysfunction.
Pathological confirmation: high density of _-synuclein-positive GCIs associated with degenerative changes in the nigrostriatal (SND) and olivopontocerebellar pathways (OPCA).
ACNR • VOLUME 3 NUMBER 6 JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2004 dent only when seemingly unresponsive patients Occasional successes have been reported with choliner- deteriorate after levodopa withdrawal. Pre-existing gic drugs, amantadine, 5-hydroxytryptophan, isoniazid, orthostatic hypotension is often unmasked or exacerbat- baclofen and propanolol, but for the large majority of ed in levodopa treated MSA patients associated with patients these drugs prove to be ineffective.
autonomic failure, whilst in contrast, psychiatric or toxic One intriguing observation is the apparent temporary confusional states appear to be less common than in PD.
exacerbation of ataxia by cigarette smoking. Nicotine is Results with dopamine agonists have been even more dis- known to increase the release of acetylcholine in many appointing. Wenning et al.16 reported a response to oral areas of the brain and probably also releases noradrena- dopamine agonists only in 4 of 41 patients, and none of line, dopamine, 5-hydroxytryptophan and other neuro- 30 patients receiving bromocriptine improved, but 3 of transmitters. Nicotinic systems may therefore play a role 10 who received pergolide had some benefit. Twenty two in cerebellar function and trials of nicotinic antagonists percent of the levodopa responders had a good or such as dihydro-beta-erythroidine might be worthwhile excellent response to at least one additional orally active dopamine agonist. Anti parkinsonian effects were notedin 4 of 26 MSA patients treated with amantadine16, but Practical therapy
there was no significant improvement in an open study of Because of the small number of randomised controlled 9 patients with atypical parkinsonism, including 5 sub- trials, the practical management of MSA is largely based on empirical evidence (↔) or single randomised studies Blepharospasm as well as limb dystonia, but not except for a few randomised controlled studies of antecollis, may respond well to local injections of botu- Ablative neurosurgical procedures such as medial pal- lidotomy fail to improve parkinsonian motor disturbance Future therapeutic approaches
in MSA. Although recently there was a beneficial effect of Two European research initiatives European MSA-Study bilateral high frequency subthalamic stimulation in four Group (EMSA-SG) and Neuroprotection and Natural patients with MSA-P both in the short-term and long- History in Parkinson Plus Syndromes (NNIPPS) are presently conducting multicentre intervention trials inMSA aimed at halting or attenuating disease progression.
Even if primary outcomes are negative these trials will There is no effective therapy for the progressive ataxia of generate important insights into the natural history and etiopathogenesis of MSA, thus identifying future targetsfor therapeutic intervention.
Table 2: “Red flags”: Warning features of MSA*
Motor Red Flags
Atypical spontaneous or L-DOPA induced dystonia predominantlyaffecting orofacial muscles, occasionally resembling risus sardonicus of cephalic tetanus.
Subacute axial dystonia with a severe tonic lateral flexion of the trunk, head, and neck (contracted andhypertrophic paravertebral muscles may be present).
Chin-on-chest, neck can only with difficulty be passively and forcibly extended to its normal position.
Despite severe chronic neck flexion, flexion elsewhere is minor.
Irregular (jerky) postural or action tremor of the hands and/or fingers.
Atypical quivering, irregular, severely hypophonic or slurring high-pitched dysarthria, which tends to develop earlier, be more severe and be associated with more marked dysphagia compared to PD.
Non-motor Red Flags
Nocturnal (harsh or strained, high pitched inspiratory sounds) or diurnal inspiratory stridor, involuntary deep inspiratory sighs/gasps, sleep apnoea (arrest of breathing for > 10 secs), and excessive snoring (increase from premorbid level, or newly arising).
Intermittent loss of muscle atonia and appearance of elaborate motoractivity (striking out with arms in sleep often with talking/shouting)associated with dream mentation.
Coldness and colour change (purple/blue) of extremities not due to drugs with blanching on pressure and poor circulatory return.
Painful “white finger”, which may be provoked by ergot drugs.
Crying inappropriately without sadness or laughing inappropriately without mirth.
*Excluding cardinal diagnostic features of MSA such as orthostatic hypotension, urinary incontinence/retention, levodopa unresponsive parkinsonism, cerebellar (ataxia) and pyramidal signs.
Also excluding non-specific features suggesting atypical parkinsonism such as rapid progression or early instability and falls.
Reproduced with kind permission from John Wiley & Sons, Inc: Wenning et al., Multiple system atrophy: an update. Mov Disord 2003;18 (Suppl 6):34-42. ACNR • VOLUME 3 NUMBER 6 JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2004 Table 3. Additional investigations in MSA
Typical results
Orthostatic hypotension (* 20/10 mmHg systolic/diastolic blood pressure drop) autonomic function
Impaired heart rate variability Impaired Valsalva manoeuvreImpaired rise of plasma noradrenaline upon standing Clonidine
Impaired release of growth hormone (controversial) challenge test
Sudomotor dysfunction (an/hypohidrosis) due to pre and postganglionic sweat test (TST),
quantitative sudomotor
axon reflex test (QSART)

Sympathetic skin
External anal
sphincter EMG
MRI (1.5 Tesla)
Basal ganglia abnormalities (putaminal atrophy/hyperintense putaminal rim/putaminal hypointensity, infratentorial signal change – hot cross bun sign), cerebellarand/or brain stem atrophy IBZM SPECT
Reduced striatal dopamine D2 receptor binding FDG-PET
Reduced striatal, frontal, and infratentorial metabolism Table 4. Practical Management of MSA
A. Pharmacotherapy
I. For akinesia-rigidity

● Levodopa up to 800-1000 mg/day, if tolerated (↔)● Dopamine agonists as second line antiparkinsonian drugs (dosing as for PD patients) (↔)● Amantadine as third line drug, 100 mg up to three times daily (↔) II. For focal dystonia
III. For orthostatic hypotension
● Head-up tilt of bed at night (↔)● Elastic stockings or tights (↔)● Increased salt intake (↔)● Fludrocortisone 0,1-0,3 mg/day (↔)● Ephedrine 15-45 mg t.i.d (↔)● L-threo-DOPS (300 mg b.i.d.) (↔) IV. For postprandial hypotension
● Octreotide 25-50 mg s.c. 30 min before a meal (↔) V. For nocturnal polyuria
● Desmopressin (spray: 10-40mcg/night or tablet: 100-400mcg/night) (↔) VI. For bladder symptoms
● Oxybutynin for detrusor hyperreflexia (2.5-5 mg b.i.d-t.i.d.) (↔)● Intermittent self-catheterisation for retention or residual volume >100 ml (↔) B. Other therapies
● Physiotherapy (↔)● Speech therapy (↔) Correspondence address:
● PEG (rarely needed in late stage) (↔) Department of NeurologyUniversity Hospital ● CPAP ( ) (rarely tracheostomy [↔]) for inspiratory stridor A-6020 InnsbruckAUSTRIATel.: 0043 512 504 3920 Reproduced with kind permission from John Wiley & Sons, Inc: Wenning et al., Multiple system atrophy: an update. Mov Disord 2003;18 (Suppl 6):34-42. ACNR • VOLUME 3 NUMBER 6 JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2004 Litvan I, Goetz CG, Jankovic J, Wenning GK, Booth V, Bartko JJ et al.
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cap_02_049a062.qxd 06/06/2007 0:38 Page 49INFORME DE LA COMUNICACIÓ A CATALUNYA 2005-2006 Josep M. Martí Departament de Comunicació Audiovisual i de Publicitat (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) Durant el bienni 2005-2006, el sector radiofònic del Principat ha viscut un període marcatper les novetats legislatives, tant en l'àmbit català -amb l'augment de competències delCAC i la reg

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