Hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP), is a group of inherited diseases whose main feature is progressive stiffness and contraction (spasticity) in the lower limbs,as a result of damage to or dysfunction of the nerves.
HSP is not a form of cerebral palsy even though it physically may appear and behave much the same as, for example, spastic diplegia. The origins of HSP are entirely separate phenomena from cerebral palsy. Despite this, some of the same anti-spasticity medications used in spastic cerebral palsy are sometimes used to try to treat HSP symptomatology.
The condition sometimes also affects the optic nerve and retina of the eye, causes cataracts, ataxia (lack of muscle coordination), epilepsy, cognitive impairment, peripheral neuropathy, and deafness. HSP is caused by defects in the mechanisms that transport proteins and other substances through the cell. Long nerves are affected because they have to transport cellular material through long distances, and are particularly sensitive to defects of cellular transport.
Hereditary spastic paraplegia was first described in 1883 by Adolph Strümpell, a German neurologist, and was later described more extensively in 1888 by Maurice Lorrain, a French physician.
Symptoms depend on the type of HSP inherited. The main feature of the disease is progressive spasticity in the lower limbs, due to pyramidal tract dysfunction. This also results in brisk reflexes, extensor plantar reflexes, muscle weakness, and variable bladder disturbances. Furthermore, among the core symptoms of HSP are also included abnormal gait and difficulty in walking, decreased vibratory sense at the ankles, and paresthesia. Initial symptoms are typically difficulty with balance, stubbing the toe or stumbling. Symptoms of HSP may begin at any age, from infancy to older than 60 years. If symptoms begin during the teenage years or later, then spastic gait disturbance usually progresses insidiously over many years. Canes, walkers, and wheelchairs may eventually be required, although some people never require assistance devices. More specifically, patients with the autosomal dominant pure form of HSP reveal normal facial and extraocular movement. Although jaw jerk may be brisk in older subjects, there is no speech disturbance or difficulty of swallowing. Upper extremity muscle tone and strength are normal. In the lower extremities, muscle tone is increased at the hamstrings, quadriceps and ankles. Weakness is most notable at the iliopsoas, tibialis anterior, and to a lesser extent, hamstring muscles. In the complex form of the disorder, additional symptoms are present. These include: peripheral neuropathy, amyotrophy, ataxia, mental retardation, ichthyosis, epilepsy, optic neuropathy, dementia, deafness, or problems with speech, swallowing or breathing.
Initial diagnosis of HSPs relies upon family history, the presence or absence of additional signs and the exclusion of other nongenetic causes of spasticity, the latter being particular important in sporadic cases.
Cerebral and spinal MRI is an important procedure performed in order to rule out other frequent neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, but also to detect associated abnormalities such as cerebellar or corpus callosum atrophy as well as white matter abnormalities. Differential diagnosis of HSP should also exclude spastic diplegia which presents with nearly identical day-to-day effects and even is treatable with similar medicines such as baclofen and orthopedic surgery; at times, these two conditions may look and feel so similar that the only perceived difference may be HSP's hereditary nature versus the explicitly non-hereditary nature of spastic diplegia (however, unlike spastic diplegia and other forms of spastic cerebral palsy, HSP cannot be reliably treated with selective dorsal rhizotomy).
Ultimate confirmation of HSP diagnosis can only be provided by carrying out genetic tests targeted towards known genetic mutations.
Although HSP is a progressive condition, the prognosis for individuals with HSP varies greatly. It primarily affects the legs although there can be some upperbody involvement in some individuals. Some cases are seriously disabling while others are less disabling and are compatible with a productive and full life. The majority of individuals with HSP have a normal life expectancy.
No specific treatment is known that would prevent, slow, or reverse HSP. Available therapies mainly consist of symptomatic medical management and promoting physical and emotional well-being. Therapeutics offered to HSP patients include:
- Baclofen – a voluntary muscle relaxant to relax muscles and reduce tone
- Tizanidine – to treat nocturnal or intermittent spasms
- Diazepam and Clonazepam – to decrease intensity of spasms
- Oxybutynin chloride – an involuntary muscle relaxant and spasmolytic agent, used to reduce spasticity of the bladder in patients with bladder control problems
- Tolterodine tartate – an involuntary muscle relaxant and spasmolytic agent, used to reduce spasticity of the bladder in patients with bladder control problems
- Botulinum toxin – to reduce muscle overactivity
- Antidepressants (such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors) – for patients experiencing clinical depression
- Physical Therapy – to restore and maintain the ability to move; to reduce muscle tone; to maintain or improve range of motion and mobility; to increase strength and coordination; to prevent complications, such as frozen joints, contractures, or bedsores.