Cerebral Autosomal Dominant Arteriopathy

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Synonyms: C erebral A utosomal D ominant A rteriopathy with S ubcortical I nfarcts and L eucoencephalopathy (CADASIL), familial vascular leukoencephalopathy

This is a rare familial form of multi-infarct dementia and other neurological problems due to a defect of NOTCH3 gene on chromosome 19.[1][2] There are probably several slightly different but close mutations.
It is inherited as autosomal dominant, and there are familial clusters. The mutation is in the NOTCH3 gene. There is no difference in incidence between the sexes. Worldwide about 400 affected families have been reported.

The true prevalence of CADASIL is unknown, but a Scottish study suggested the prevalence of CADASIL in that population was about 2 in 100,000 adults.[3][4]

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Risk factors

Usually a parent is affected. New mutations are rare and penetrance is high. Children of affected parents have a 50% chance of inheriting the disorder.

Serious hereditary diseases are rarely autosomal dominants as they tend to be self destructive by killing the affected person before he or she can reproduce. However, in CADASIL (as in Huntingdon's chorea) the disease does not usually strike until after the individual has had a family. Genetic counselling is very important, aided if possible by predictive testing.

There are no generally accepted diagnostic criteria but features that may suggest the disease include:[5]

  • Stroke-like episodes before age 60 years
  • Cognitive disturbance (dysexecutive syndrome)
  • Behavioural abnormalities
  • Migraine with aura
  • Family history suggesting an autosomal dominant inheritance is usual but not essential

Not everyone presents with all features but the following gives an indication of presentation and chance of occurence, although the figures are based on different series. Findings vary between families and there may be other genetic modifiers:[6][7]

  • CADASIL starts with migraine with aura during the 3rd decade in 30 to 40% of patients. It is followed by ischaemic events between the 30s and 60s, and progressing to dementia and death.
  • Death is often during the 6th decade. Most of the recurrent strokes, or transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs), are classical lacunar infarcts (LACIs). They are not related to hypertension or any other vascular risk factors.
  • Subcortical ischaemic events occur in 84% with progressive or stepwise subcortical dementia and pseudobulbar palsy in 31%.[8]
  • Migraine with aura occurs in 22% and mood disorders with severe depressive episodes in 20%.
  • In one series there was progressive dementia, gait abnormalities, and, in some, symptoms suggestive of Parkinson's disease.[9]
  • In another series[10] the most consistent finding was ischaemic episodes, usually classical TIAs or lacunar strokes, but occasionally insidious deficits that developed over several days. Cognitive deficits were seen in 59%, migraine in 38%, psychiatric symptoms in 30% and epilepsy in 10%.
  • Dementia may start as early as age 35 and, by age 45, over 50% have features of dementia.[11]

Clinical suspicion

The disease is probably underdiagnosed. The diagnosis should be considered not only in patients with recurrent small subcortical infarcts leading to dementia, but also in the patients with TIAs, migraine with aura and mood disturbances, whenever MRI scanning reveals prominent signal abnormalities in the subcortical white matter and basal ganglia.

  • MRI scans show infarcts within the deep white matter. They are found in the anterior temporal lobe with great specificity and sensitivity. The external capsule is less often involved.
  • CADASIL may be diagnosed on the basis of characteristic hyperintensities in T2-weighted MRIs.[14] Multiple LACIs located mainly in the basal ganglia and frontal white matter lead to a cognitive decline and finally to dementia. Subtle MRI changes may be seen as early as age 21 and before clinical features.
  • The diagnostic pathology of CADASIL is a non-amyloid, non-atherosclerotic microangiopathy. It affects the leptomeningeal and perforating arteries of the brain - the media of these vessels is thickened by eosinophilic periodic acid-Schiff-positive granular deposits. On electron microscopy, this material corresponds to osmiophilic immunoglobulin-like deposits located in close proximity to vascular smooth muscle. The clinical features are neurological but the arteriopathy is generalised and so brain biopsies are not required. Testing can be done on biopsies of skin.[14]

Molecular genetic testing can be used for:

  • Confirming the diagnosis
  • Predictive testing of a potential carrier who has not yet developed features of the disease
  • Prenatal diagnosis

The mutation detection rate is said to be in excess of 95%.

A Dutch study found that nearly 25% had a history of myocardial infarction.[15]

Management is purely supportive as no effective treatment exists. The possible benefit of low-dose aspirin is unproven. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (eg donepezil) have no significant effect on cognitive function although may have some benefit on executive function.[16] More research is needed.

Mean age at death was 53.2 ±10.9 years for males and 59.3 ± 8.8 years for females.[10]

Prenatal testing is possible. The ethics of testing young people for a disease that does not normally present until later life suggests that it is best left until after age 18. Fetal testing from amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling is feasible.

Further reading & references

  1. Tournier-Lasserve E, Joutel A, Melki J, et al; Cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy maps to chromosome 19q12. Nat Genet. 1993 Mar;3(3):256-9.
  2. Cerebral Arteriopathy: CADASIL Online Mendelian Inheritance on Man (OMIM)
  3. Genetics Home Reference; CADASIL
  4. Razvi SS, Davidson R, Bone I, et al; The prevalence of cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leucoencephalopathy (CADASIL) in the west of Scotland. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2005 May;76(5):739-41.
  5. Chabriat H, Joutel A, Dichgans M, et al; Cadasil. Lancet Neurol. 2009 Jul;8(7):643-53.
  6. Rubio A, Rifkin D, Powers JM, et al; Phenotypic variability of CADASIL and novel morphologic findings. Acta Neuropathol (Berl). 1997 Sep;94(3):247-54.
  7. Opherk C, Peters N, Holtmannspotter M, et al; Heritability of MRI lesion volume in CADASIL: evidence for genetic modifiers. Stroke. 2006 Nov;37(11):2684-9. Epub 2006 Sep 28.
  8. Chabriat H, Vahedi K, Iba-Zizen MT, et al; Clinical spectrum of CADASIL: a study of 7 families. Cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy. Lancet. 1995 Oct 7;346(8980):934-9.
  9. Glusker P, Horoupian DS, Lane B; Familial arteriopathic leukoencephalopathy: imaging and neuropathologic findings. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 1998 Mar;19(3):469-75.
  10. Dichgans M, Mayer M, Uttner I, et al; The phenotypic spectrum of CADASIL: clinical findings in 102 cases. Ann Neurol. 1998 Nov;44(5):731-9.
  11. Dichgans M, Filippi M, Bruning R, et al; Quantitative MRI in CADASIL: correlation with disability and cognitive performance. Neurology. 1999 Apr 22;52(7):1361-7.
  12. O'Riordan S, Nor AM, Hutchinson M; CADASIL imitating multiple sclerosis: the importance of MRI markers. Mult Scler. 2002 Oct;8(5):430-2.
  13. Binswanger's Disease; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
  14. Kalimo H, Viitanen M, Amberla K, et al; CADASIL: hereditary disease of arteries causing brain infarcts and dementia. Neuropathol Appl Neurobiol. 1999 Aug;25(4):257-65.
  15. Lesnik Oberstein SA, Jukema JW, Van Duinen SG, et al; Myocardial infarction in cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy (CADASIL). Medicine (Baltimore). 2003 Jul;82(4):251-6.
  16. Dichgans M, Markus HS, Salloway S, et al; Donepezil in patients with subcortical vascular cognitive impairment: a Lancet Neurol. 2008 Apr;7(4):310-8. Epub 2008 Feb 28.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Dr Hayley Willacy
Current Version:
Document ID:
1924 (v23)
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