Objective: Machado-Joseph disease is an autosomal dominant spinocerebellar ataxia with expanded trinucleotide repeats. Although autonomic nervous system degeneration was documented in postmortem reports, the autonomic dysfunction in patients with Machado-Joseph disease, either in clinical analysis or electrophysiological investigations, has not yet been studied in detail. Methods: Fifteen patients with genetically confirmed Machado-Joseph disease and 34 healthy subjects were studied. The study design included a detailed questionnaire, R-R interval variation on deep breathing or Valsalva maneuver, and sympathetic skin response evoked by electrical stimulation of the median nerve or magnetic stimulation of the neck. Results: Sixty-seven percent of patients had at least 3 symptoms involving different aspects of autonomic functions. Voiding problems and thermoregulatory disturbance were the most common symptoms. Ten (71%) of 14 patients had abnormal R-R interval variation with a significant reduction of the mean ratio. Prolonged latency or absence of sympathetic skin response to electrical stimulation was identified in 73% of patients and to magnetic stimulation, in 53%. R-R interval variation and sympathetic skin response showed good correlation with the functional stage. Electrical stimulation revealed the highest sensitivity, specificity, and positive predictive value compared with other tests. Conclusion: The present investigation documents that autonomic dysfunction is not uncommon in patients with Machado-Joseph disease and might be related to the clinical progression.
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