Perspectives: Life and Work of Dr. Stanley Fahn
Aug. 01, 2022
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Chorea, derived from the Latin choreus meaning "dance," describes a syndrome characterized by irregular, hyperkinetic, involuntary movements resulting from a continuous flow of random muscle contractions. Athetosis refers to the writhing, slow, and irregular movements involving the hand and fingers. Choreoathetosis is the term to describe chorea with a writhing quality. When chorea is mild, it is difficult to differentiate from restlessness. Proximal flinging movements is referred as ballism. Although the mechanism is not completely understood, chorea is thought to be resulted from the imbalance in the direct and indirect pathways in the basal ganglia circuitry (12). Enhanced activity of the direct pathway, or disruption of the inhibitory function of the indirect pathway, leads to the development of chorea. Primary chorea is either idiopathic or hereditary. Secondary chorea is related to autoimmune, vascular, infectious, pharmacologic, and metabolic. The author aims to provide an up-to-date discussion of the clinical presentations, etiology, pathogenesis, differential, and management of this order.
• Vascular disease of the brain is the most common cause of nongenetic chorea in adults.
• Cognitive and behavioral symptoms are the first manifestations of Huntington disease, the most common cause of genetic chorea.
• Antidopaminergic drugs are the mainstay to achieve symptomatic control of chorea, regardless of the underlying etiology.
• There is a growing list of genetic causes of chorea as well as seizure disorders in children.
• ADCY5 gene mutation is the second most common cause of benign hereditary chorea.
Huntington disease. Huntington disease (HD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. It is an autosomal dominant disorder caused by a CAG trinucleotide repeat expansion in a gene on chromosome 4p16.3. A repeat of 36 CAG or more can lead to the disease. The age of onset decreases with longer CAG repeats. The mutated Huntingtin protein in Huntington disease impaired neural progenitor cell division and neuronal migration and maturation, leading to underdevelopment of the cortex in Huntington disease mice (98). The expanded repeat is unstable and tends to increase in the subsequent generation, a phenomenon called anticipation. A systematic review was conducted to estimate the prevalence of Huntington disease in the postdiagnostic testing era (1993 to 2015); the prevalence of Huntington disease is significantly lower in Asian populations compared to western Europe, North America, and Australia (125). Huntington disease is characterized by a triad of choleric movements (facial grimacing and writhing limb movements), dementia, and behavioral disturbances including personality changes, depression, as well as psychosis (121). In general, the age of onset is approximately 40 years. Approximately 5% of the affected individuals have a juvenile onset under the age of 20, and about 30% are diagnosed with Huntington disease at the age of 50 or above. In juvenile onset cases, rigidity, hypokinesia and dystonia are common. Other common motor manifestations in Huntington disease include slowing of saccades, myoclonus, rigidity, and ataxia (84). Dystonia is usually observed in the advanced stage of Huntington disease or is associated with the use of dopaminergic medications. Dysphagia and aspiration tends to occur in the terminal stage of the disease; however, cortical language is usually spared.
Adenylate cyclase 5 mutation. Mutations of adenylate cyclase 5 (ADCY5) have emerged as an important causal gene for early-onset autosomal dominant chorea and dystonia (17; 23). Although ADCY5 mutations have been initially mentioned as a phenocopy of Huntington disease, this is certainly not the case. The 2 conditions are easily distinguishable because juvenile Huntington disease is characterized by rigid-akinetic syndrome, cognitive decline, and occasional seizure disorder, but almost never chorea. In contrast, ADCY5 syndrome is characterized by delayed motor and speech milestones, episodic axial hypotonia, ataxia, generalized chorea and dystonia, myoclonus, and myopathy-like facial appearance. The disorder is frequently misdiagnosed as dyskinetic cerebral palsy (99). Nevertheless, as often happens with newly described genetic conditions, there is growing evidence pointing towards the great genetic and phenotypic variability of ADCY5 mutations: autosomal recessive mutations and a wide range of hyperkinetic movement disorders including chorea, dystonia, myoclonus, and tics (13).
Phosphodiesterase 10A mutation. Phosphodiesterase 10A (PDE10A) mutation is also another genetic disorder that causes an early onset chorea. The phenotype can be similar to the one seen in the ADCY5 disease. Interestingly, both mutations are associated with same changes in the basal ganglia, including decreased PDE10A expression in the striatum and globus pallidus (103). There is also a description of a homozygous loss-of-function mutation in PDE2A associated with an early onset hereditary chorea (126).
Neuroferritinopathy. Neuroferritinopathy is an autosomal dominant condition causing chorea (50%), dystonia (42.5%) and, less often, parkinsonism (7%). It is caused by mutations in the ferritin light chain gene, resulting in iron deposition and cavitation in the basal ganglia on brain MRI (94).
Chorea acanthocytosis. Chorea acanthocytosis (ChAc) is a rare neurodegenerative disease that can be transmitted by autosomal recessive, dominant, or X-linked inheritance. It is a part of the group of neuroacanthocytosis syndrome consisting of McLeod syndrome, Huntington disease-like syndrome 2, and pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration. The clinical manifestation includes orofacial dyskinesia, chorea, and peripheral neuropathy. Epilepsy and parkinsonism can sometimes be seen in patients with chorea acanthocytosis. Behavioral problems such as depression, obsessions, compulsions, self-mutilation, and psychotic disorders are commonly seen in chorea acanthocytosis (141). In clinical practice, obsessions and compulsions are often more disabling herein than in Huntington disease. In both Huntington disease and chorea acanthocytosis, the muscle tone is increased, and with progression of the illness, there is a tendency for worsening of the rigidity and a decrease of the severity of the chorea. According to a multicenter retrospective analysis, GPi-DBS provides long-lasting improvement in patients with chorea acanthocytosis. A study reported the efficacy of the use of STN-DBS in 2 siblings with severe oromandibular dystonia and gait abnormalities (146). Further research is needed to improve the understanding of the mechanisms and the treatment modalities for chorea acanthocytosis.
Dentatorubralpallidoluysian atrophy. Dentatorubralpallidoluysian atrophy (DRPLA) is an autosomal dominant disorder caused by a CAG trineucleotide repeat expansion in chromosome 12 (67). The function of the mutant protein, Atrophin-1, is unknown. Individuals with 53 or more CAG repeats develop the symptoms. Clinical manifestation of this disease include chorea, myoclonus, ataxia, epilepsy, and cognitive decline. Neuroimaging studies demonstrated atrophy of the cerebellum, tegmentum, and cerebral hemispheres with ventricular dilatation (12). Neuronal loss and gliosis in the dentate nucleus, red nucleus, globus pallidus, and subthalamic nucleus is often seen pathologically (12).
Benign hereditary chorea. Patients with benign hereditary chorea, an autosomal dominant illness, have a mutation in the TITF1/NKX2-1 gene, which codes for a transcription factor essential for the organogenesis of the lung, thyroid, and basal ganglia (78; 65). In fact, the clinical picture of these patients is characterized by a variable combination of chorea, mental retardation, congenital hypothyroidism, and chronic lung disease; hence, the term brain-thyroid-lung syndrome has been proposed for this disease (144; 41). Studies with clinical-genetic correlation have helped to demonstrate that the clinical spectrum of benign hereditary chorea is wider than previously thought, including dystonia, myoclonus, restless legs syndrome, psychosis, hypotonia, seizures, joint laxity, neonatal respiratory failure, pituitary involvement, and short stature (02; 77; 51; 61; 112; 62). It has also been demonstrated that the phenotype of benign hereditary chorea and hypothyroidism can be caused by distinct NKX2-1 mutations (46; 65; 116). A description of 28 patients from France harboring TITF1/NKX2-1 gene mutations confirms that a gamut of movement disorders and nonmotor features are associated with benign hereditary chorea: hypotonia and chorea were present in early infancy, with delayed walking ability (25 out of 28); dystonia, myoclonus, and tics were often associated; and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was present in 7 (52). In summary, the clinical presentation of NKX2-1 mutations is heterogeneous, often including severely disabling features. Few patients with this condition who underwent PET imaging to study postsynaptic nigro-striatal dopamine receptors were found to have decreased density of receptors (79).
Immune-mediated chorea. Sydenham chorea (SD) is an autoimmune disease manifested after streptococcal pharyngitis. It is caused by antigenic mimicry between basal ganglia cells and group A beta-hemolytic Streptococci antigens. Sydenham chorea often presents with other symptoms of rheumatic fever, but it can occur alone. The first episode of Sydenham chorea typically occurs 6 to 8 weeks poststreptococcal infection (09). Behavioral changes are common in Sydenham chorea, including major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The frequency of psychiatric disorders did not differ between Sydenham chorea patients in remission in comparison with patients with persistent chorea, except for depressive disorders, which were more frequent in the latter (100). There is evidence that patients who had Sydenham chorea in the past are often left with frontal lobe dysfunction, such as dysexecutive syndrome, as well as attention deficit disorder (08; 25). Harsányi and colleagues not only replicated the findings of patients with Sydenham chorea performing worse than healthy controls in tasks of phonemic and semantic verbal fluency but also showed that they had a poorer performance on the Token test that assesses verbal comprehension (54). Interestingly, individuals with rheumatic fever without chorea also had a significantly worse verbal fluency (54). Patients with previous history of chorea associated with rheumatic fever are left with bradykinesia in 64% of cases. This finding supports the notion that there may be an injury of the nigro-striatal system in Sydenham chorea (05).
Anti-IgLON5 disease is a recently discovered neurodegenerative disorder associated with antibodies against the neuronal cell adhesion protein, IgLON5, of unknown function (49). The 4 main symptoms in patients with this disorder include REM and non-REM parasomnias, bulbar syndromes, cognitive decline, and movement disorders. A retrospective, observational study demonstrated that the first signs and symptoms of this disease were abnormal movements (48). Gait and balance disturbance is the most frequent complaint, followed by chorea, bradykinesia, abnormal body postures or rigidity, and tremors. About one-third of the participants in the study also reported other hyperkinetic movements including myoclonus, akathisia, myorhythmia, myokymia, or abdominal dyskinesias. The craniofacial dyskinesias were frequently associated with concurrent abnormal movements. The constellation of multiple movement disorders, sleep alternations, bulbar symptoms, and cognitive impairment should alert clinicians to consider this disease.
Vascular chorea. Polycythemia vera (PV) is a myeloproliferative neoplasm associated with erythrocytosis. A diagnosis of polycythemia vera is made when an individual has hemoglobin greater than 16.5 g/dL (greater than 16.0 g/dL in women) or hematocrit greater than 49% (greater than 48% in women), or increased red cell mass, hypercellularity in bone marrow biopsy, and presence of the JAK2 mutation (11). The association between chorea and polycythemia vera was thought to be due to hyperviscosity in basal ganglia, thereby causing chorea. However, some patients develop chorea despite without a particular high hematocrit (82). In mice with quinolinic acid striatal lesions, inhibition of JAK2 led to reduced apoptosis and astrogliosis, suggesting that JAK2 inhibition is neuroprotective (60). It was postulated that the expression of JAK2 in the stratum may promote astrogliosis and inflammation in the basal ganglia, leading to chorea in the setting of JAK2 mutation without polycythemia vera. Chorea can occur after a stroke especially when the subthalamic nucleus is involved.
Infectious chorea. Chorea can occur as an acute manifestation of bacterial, viral, aseptic, or tuberculous encephalitis and meningitis. In a case study, a patient was reported to develop acute choreiform movements in the setting of COVID-19 infection (55). CSF was positive for SARS-CoV-2 in the cerebrospinal fluid of this patient, indicating the potential brain invasion of the virus. Interestingly, in the same patient, inflammatory and infectious marker abnormalities were only observed in blood samples, but none in the cerebrospinal fluid, suggesting that there may be a CNS-specific inflammatory cascade.
Drug-induced chorea. Acute chorea can be caused multiple drugs including dopamine agonists, stimulants (eg, cocaine and amphetamines), levodopa therapy, oral contraceptives, and anticonvulsants (eg, carbamazepine, valproate, phenytoin, and gabapentin) (64). Tardive dyskinesia is a movement disorder characterized by irregular bucco-oral movements after prolonged use of antipsychotics, especially the first generation antipsychotic medications.
Prognosis depends on etiology. Drug-induced chorea is usually reversible after the medication is discontinued, but persistent as a tardive syndrome following prolonged use of antipsychotic medications. Vascular chorea-hemiballism following lacunar stroke is dramatic at the onset, but its severity spontaneously declines with time in most patients. Most choreas may be treated with medication to reduce symptom intensity, although some, such as powerful persistent chorea-hemiballism, may be refractory to all but aggressive intervention (eg, thalamotomy, pallidotomy). Sydenham chorea persisting longer than 2 years has been described in 35% to 50% of individuals prospectively followed up (22). Recurrence of chorea following rheumatic fever has been associated with poor compliance with secondary antibiotic prophylaxis. Huntington disease, neuroacanthocytosis, and other degenerative illnesses have poor prognoses, dependent more on the underlying condition than on the choreic movements, with inexorable progression leading to death. A review of 52 individuals with chorea-acanthocytosis found that the mean disease duration from diagnosis was 11 years, whereas patients with McLeod syndrome, another cause of neuroacanthocytosis, had a much longer survival of 21 years. The most common causes of death were pneumonia, cardiac disease, seizure, suicide, and sepsis. Of note, suicide accounted for 10% of deaths in subjects with chorea-acanthocytosis (140).
The causes of chorea, as listed in the section under differential diagnosis and summarized in Table 1, are many. In addition to the classical presentation, chorea is also found in less widely recognized settings. For instance, in a review of the phenomenology of 100 patients with focal motor seizures, a group of experts identified chorea in 4% of these individuals (44). The etiology also depends on the age at onset. For instance, in adults, vascular chorea is the most common etiology (120). In contrast, in children, Sydenham chorea account for more than 90% of the acute cases of chorea (149).
In all cases of chorea it is assumed that there is disruption of basal ganglia modulation of thalamocortical motor pathways. This disruption may be due to structural damage, selective neuronal degeneration, neurotransmitter receptor blockade, or other metabolic factors within the basal ganglia. Structural lesions of the subthalamic nucleus or subthalamic region, caused by infarcts, hemorrhage, or tumors, produce chorea (87). Alterations in striatal neurotransmitters may occur endogenously, as in Huntington disease; or exogenously, as seen with drug use or withdrawal (115; 91; 06).
In Huntington disease, mutant Huntingtin (mHTT) protein, an intracellular protein, was found to be transiently increased in the cerebrospinal fluid after acute neurotoxic injury, suggesting the mutant protein was released from dying neurons into the extracellular space and then cerebrospinal fluid (24). mHTT protein in the cerebrospinal fluid correlates with disease burden as well as motor and cognitive performance (24). However, the cell type and brain region source of mHTT remains unclear, but striatum and cortex likely contribute to the pool mHTT in the cerebrospinal fluid given that these brain regions are most affected in Huntington disease.
The role of autoimmune processes in chorea is of growing interest. Antibasal ganglia antibodies have been detected in subjects with Sydenham chorea using ELISA and Western immunoblotting methods. The antibasal ganglia antibodies play a role in the development of chorea by disrupting corticostriate circuitry (29). It was demonstrated that these autoantibodies target neuronal tubulin (76). Interestingly, there are data suggesting that persistence of Sydenham chorea for 2 years or more is related to structural dysfunction rather than to an ongoing autoimmune process (134). A study, however, failed to induce behavioral changes in rodents infused with antibodies from patients with Sydenham chorea although they bound to neural cells (10). Nevertheless, studies provide compelling evidence that Streptococcus-induced antibodies cross-react with central dopamine receptors inducing movement disorders and behavioral abnormalities (15; 38; 42; 36). Autoimmune-mediated damage may be the result of small vessel occlusive disease in the basal ganglia or by direct antibody attack on neuronal antigens in the basal ganglia (73; 136).
In systemic lupus erythematosus, 90% of patients with chorea test positive for antiphospholipid antibodies (123). These patients also have circulating antibodies that bind to neuronal surface (38). Immunologic studies show that antiphospholipid antibodies associated with chorea target beta2-glycoprotein I cause thrombotic phenomena (117). Chorea may also be a component of paraneoplastic syndromes. Although rare, paraneoplastic chorea associated with small cell lung cancer, lymphoma, renal cell cancer, and cardiac fibroelastoma has been reported (33; 138; 14). Previous investigations suggested that paraneoplastic chorea was almost exclusively associated with CV2/CRMP5 related to small cell lung cancer or, less commonly, malignant thymoma or breast cancer (57; 50). Similar results were provided by a report of 13 subjects with paraneoplastic chorea who corresponded to 1.2% of a large, multinational European cohort of individuals with paraneoplastic syndromes and, after small cell lung cancer, the most common neoplasms were lymphoma, bowel, or kidney cancers (139). A series of 14 patients from the U.S., however, indicates that ANNA is an antibody also commonly associated with paraneoplastic chorea and most patients were found to have small cell carcinoma or adenocarcinoma (110).
Table 1 contains a list of a number of licit and illicit drugs that can cause chorea. Of note, in the context of patients with movement disorders, levodopa and other dopaminergic agents are a common cause of chorea in subjects with Parkinson disease. Antiepileptic agents have long been recognized as a cause of chorea, particularly in patients with structural brain lesions. There are reports relating valproate use to onset of chorea, which is surprising considering the established antichoreic action of this agent in Sydenham chorea (132; 137).
There are reports of causes of chorea in the adults or the elderly that, although rare, should be kept in mind by the clinician: acute bilateral basal ganglia lesions in patients with brainstem cavernous malformation, brainstem glioma, diabetic uremia, moyamoya disease, post-pump, valproic acid use, pontine hemorrhage and putaminal cavernous angioma (75; 88; 124; 137; 85; 83; 113; 148). There are reports describing that the damage of post-pump chorea may result in a clinical picture similar to progressive supranuclear palsy (111). It is interesting that although not often recognized as a cause of chorea, uremia can cause this movement disorder and lead to neuroimaging findings rather similar to what one sees in chorea associated with hyperglycemia. A study showed that there are differences between the 2 conditions on magnetic resonance imaging of the brain: the diabetic patients demonstrated T1-hyperintense and inhomogeneous lesions in the basal ganglia, whereas the others had T2-hyperintense and homogeneous lesions in this area (74).
Another rare cause of the combination of ataxia and chorea is mutation in the mitochondrial DNA polymerase gamma. In a report of a series of patients, the authors found a myriad of clinical features: chronic external ophthalmoplegia (100%), areflexia to the lower extremity (100%), impaired vibration sense (100%), bilateral ptosis (69%), epilepsy (38%), and hyperkinetic movement disorders, including chorea (31%), dystonia (31%), and myoclonus (23%) (133). There are also reports of unusual causes of chorea: extrapontine myelinolysis (104) and associated with intratumoral chemotherapy catheter (150), as well as induced by cerebrospinal fluid shunt (39).
The presence of chorea reflects striatal dysfunction, as seen in the classic chorea of Huntington disease or subthalamic dysfunction (32). Although many biological factors are associated with chorea, neuroanatomic data implicate the putamen, globus pallidus, and subthalamic nuclei as key structures in all choreic disorders (118). The brief involuntary movements are initiated via the motor outflow pathway from thalamocortical to corticospinal. Modulation of the thalamocortical output occurs via inhibition of the thalamic nuclei by the globus pallidus and subthalamic nuclei and the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (01). Multiple neurotransmitters seem to play a role in the pathophysiology of chorea, most importantly dopamine (68). Once manifested clinically, no specific electrophysiologic features reliably discriminate chorea from normal movements or other involuntary movements (135). Electrophysiologic studies indicate that cortical modulation is normal in some forms of chorea, thus, confirming the subcortical origins of the involuntary movements (53). Etiologically diverse types of chorea are thought to reflect deficient globus pallidum internal inhibitory input to the motor thalamus resulting in excessive thalamocortical motor facilitation. However, there are also inconsistencies between the model and clinical evidence, including the abolition of drug-induced chorea in Parkinson disease through pallidotomy, which, according to the model, should lead to increased excitatory thalamocortical drive and, thus, worsening of chorea. Current views maintain that more complex changes in the temporal and spatial firing pattern of the globus pallidum internal underlie hyperkinetic movement disorders such as chorea (106; 97; 101). This has been challenged by studies suggesting that in both Sydenham chorea and chorea associated with Huntington disease there is an increase of inhibition in the motor cortex (71).
Although there are no community-based studies available regarding the prevalence and incidence of choreas as a whole, there is information regarding the situation in tertiary care centers. According to a study from Pennsylvania, Sydenham chorea accounts for almost 100% of acute cases of chorea seen in children (149). Studies from Australia confirm the remaining importance of rheumatic fever as a cause of chorea in children (37; 131; 105). In fact, an epidemiological study in Ireland showed that the incidence is 0.23 out of 100,000 (31). In contrast, the situation is distinct in adult patients. Although no data are available, it is likely that levodopa-induced chorea in Parkinson disease patients is the most common cause of chorea seen by neurologists. Huntington disease is the most frequent cause of genetic chorea with reported prevalence rates in North America and Europe ranging from 3 to 7 per 100,000 (21). The other genetic conditions causing chorea (see Table 1) are rare. One study of consecutive patients seen at a tertiary hospital found that stroke accounted for 50% of all cases, drug abuse was identified in one third of the patients, and the remaining patients had chorea related to AIDS and other infections as well as metabolic problems (120).
As might be expected, a discussion regarding prevention of chorea from such diverse etiologies is not practical. Prevention in the context of specific conditions is worthwhile. For example, prenatal and preimplantation genetic diagnosis in families at-risk for Huntington disease is available. The following reproductive choices are discussed with the at-risk individuals during genetic counseling: (1) the wish to have a pregnancy free of Huntington disease and without the risk of a mutation carrier offspring, (2) the option to test an ongoing pregnancy by chorionic villous sampling and termination of the pregnancy if the fetus is a carrier of the Huntington disease mutation, (3) the decision to perform the predictive testing to the at-risk couple prior to requesting the prenatal diagnosis (if the fetus is positive for Huntington disease before the at-risk parent undergoing the presymptomatic test, the genetic status of the at-risk parent would be indirectly revealed), (4) the request of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis that is performed as part of an in vitro fertilization procedure (128). Genetic counselor should communicate with the at-risk couple in a compassionate and unambiguous manner so that they can make the most informed reproductive decision before pregnancy.
Table 1 lists both common and uncommon conditions associated with chorea. As mentioned in the Etiology section, the reader should consider age at onset when developing a plan for diagnostic evaluation. A review discusses the etiology of chorea in children (04).
• Acute disseminated encephalomyelopathy
• AIDS related (toxoplasmosis, progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, HIV encephalitis)
- B19 parvovirus
• Adrenal insufficiency
• Polycitemia vera
• Anoxic encephalopathy
Children and adults with chorea should undergo diagnostic evaluation, which includes neuroimaging and laboratory study. A thorough medical history including current and past medications and family and social history will help refine the differential diagnosis. MRI is preferable to CT due to the superior delineation of the subcortical tissue usually involved. Table 2 outlines the basic testing recommended. Further studies should be undertaken when clinical factors warrant. These might include genetic testing for Huntington disease or Huntington disease phenocopies, benign hereditary chorea, and other less common causes of genetic chorea and HIV antibody testing (119), muscle biopsy for mitochondrial disease, cerebrospinal fluid analysis for inflammation, drug or toxin assays, and peripheral blood smear with 1:1 saline dilution for acanthocytes and amino acid measurements. The genetic test for Huntington disease should be considered even for patients without a suggestive family history. A de novo expansion of the unstable triplet CAG repeat occurs in approximately 3% of affected patients (130). Because diabetes mellitus can cause chorea in adults, appropriate studies should always be ordered (27). Paraneoplastic antibody studies should also be considered in patients with new-onset unexplained chorea (138). Functional neuroimaging studies show that patients with chorea associated with diabetes have evidence of presynaptic nigrostriatal dysfunction on SPECT (127), and there is hypometabolism of the basal ganglia in chorea-acanthocytosis (35).
• Antinuclear antibody
The most important principle of management of chorea is to remove the cause. This is possible in drug-induced chorea, metabolic or endocrine choreas, and to some extent even in immunologic choreas such as Sydenham chorea, with penicillin prophylaxis. Unfortunately in most choreic syndromes encountered in clinical practice causal therapies are not available and symptomatic treatment is required.
Dopamine depletors or receptor blockers are the mainstay of pharmacological treatment of chorea regardless of the etiology. As a rule, the more D2 receptor blocking action, the greater the antichoreic efficacy. Although there are no controlled studies, open label reports and clinical experience indicate that atypical agents such as quetiapine and clozapine have a limited role in the treatment of chorea. On the other hand, if typical neuroleptics are effective in reduction of chorea, they are often associated with unacceptable side effects such as sedation, acute dystonic reaction, tardive dyskinesia, and parkinsonism. The latter can be a problem in Huntington disease because with progression of the illness there is a tendency for development of rigidity and dystonia (40). Similarly, in hemiballism-hemichorea, chorea suppression on 1 side of the body may be accompanied by simultaneous development of parkinsonism on the opposite hemibody. Risperidone and olanzapine are atypical antipsychotics with definite antichoreic activity but lesser potential to induce parkinsonism than typical neuroleptics.
There are numerous reports of use of tetrabenazine, which inhibits vesicular monoamine transporter 2 inhibitor (VMAT2) and, thus, acts as a presynaptic dopamine depletor to treat chorea associated with cerebral palsy and other causes (108; 70; 65; 99). Controlled data have confirmed that this agent is indeed efficacious in controlling chorea in Huntington disease (58; 70; 47; 66). Tetrabenazine is now an FDA-approved agent for symptomatic control of chorea in Huntington disease. A review of a large number of patients with chorea of different causes confirms the efficacy and safety of treatment with tetrabenazine (129; 65). Another VMAT2 inhibitor, deutetrabenazine, has been found to be efficacious in the treatment of chorea associated with Huntington disease, tardive dyskinesia, and tics associated with Tourette syndrome (59; 65). Also, valbenazine, another VMAT2 inhibitor, was evaluated for the treatment of chorea, tardive dyskinesia, and tics (65; 07). Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of chorea associated with Huntington disease (tetrabenazine, deutetrabenazine) and tardive dyskinesia (valbenazine, deutetrabenazine), these VMAT2 inhibitors are considered the treatment of choice for other choreas (07; 45). An open-label study suggests that aripiprazole has efficacy comparable to tetrabenazine in the control of chorea in Huntington disease, but further studies are required to confirm this observation (16). Even if confirmed, aripiprazole, in contrast to tetrabenazine, carries the risk of tardive dyskinesia. Levodopa may be required in patients with juvenile Huntington disease or in adults with advanced disease and severe rigidity. This drug has also been reported as useful to the management of patients with NKX2-1 mutation (03), but this requires further confirmation.
Nondopaminergic agents may also be effective in the management of chorea. Amantadine is believed to act primarily via a NMDA blocking mechanism. There are a few small controlled studies of this agent in Huntington disease (89; 109). Although the results are contradictory, the weight of evidence is in favor of a weak antichoreic action in this condition. Valproic acid is widely used in the treatment of chorea in Sydenham chorea. Although a few open-label studies and clinical experience strongly support the efficacy of the drug in this indication, no controlled studies have addressed this issue. Carbamazepine is also rarely used to treat Sydenham chorea (56). Autoimmune choreas are also responsive to immunosuppressive measures, particularly intravenous methylprednisolone (102; 26; 20). Latrepirdine, an agent that possibly improves mitochondrial function, has been shown to cause mild improvement of cognition in patients with Huntington disease (72). Subsequent studies, however, were disappointing and the agent is no longer in development.
Surgery to treat chorea is rarely needed. However, this may be the case in a few patients with persistent vascular chorea (arbitrarily defined as duration longer than 1 year) in whom stereotactic surgery such as thalamotomy or posteroventral pallidotomy is effective (19; 28). There are also a few reports describing effectiveness of surgery to treat chorea related to cerebral palsy (81), “senile chorea” (147), and dentatorubral-pallidoluysian atrophy (143). Finally, pallidotomy and pallidal-stimulation have also been used in Huntington disease (34; 101). Although chorea is effectively controlled by these procedures, the relentless progression of Huntington disease leads to a loss of functional improvement (69). There have been several patients with Huntington disease treated with fetal cell implantation in the striatum. Despite a few positive reports, in the majority of cases no improvement has been observed. Autopsy studies have shown that the grafts survive but do not integrate with host striatum (70; 30). With the advent of deep brain stimulation (DBS), there is growing awareness of the beneficial role of this procedure to treat chorea (43). Reports describe its usefulness in the management of selected patients with chorea-acanthocytosis (86). A large series of patients with refractory tardive dyskinesia that included chorea underwent GPi deep brain stimulation with sustained benefit (122). In the past few years, several groups have reported effective use of deep brain stimulation to treat chorea in chorea-acanthocytosis (142; 146).
Ongoing clinical trials aim to use antisense oligonucleotide technology to lower Huntingtin levels in Huntington disease based on the preclinical findings that lowering Huntingtin in the brain is correlated with the reduction of Huntington disease-like symptoms in rodent models (92; 24). There are mainly 3 Huntingtin level lowering strategies. First one is genome editing by interrupting the CAG repeat expansion, which can potentially delay the onset of disease. Second strategy aims at the protein level by interrupting axonal transport of Huntingtin and induction of autophagy to inhibit the accumulation of mutant Huntingtin protein. Although the first 2 strategies are still in preclinical phase, phase III clinical trials are ongoing to investigate gene expression modification strategies, which aim to inhibit the generation of Huntingtin protein.
Chorea gravidarum and endocrine or metabolic-related chorea should be considered in any pregnant woman with hyperkinetic movements (107; 18; 80). Treatment is not usually needed as chorea resolves postpartum (or following correction of the underlying endocrine or metabolic derangement). Human chorionic gonadotropin may be the reason for reduced chorea during pregnancy in a woman with paroxysmal kinesigenic choreoathetosis (90). Neuroleptics should be avoided, particularly during the limb-genesis period of the first trimester (93). Low-dose benzodiazepines may be considered in the second and third trimesters if the potential benefit outweighs the risks of fetal respiratory depression and possible teratogenicity.
Choreic movements may occur with a variety of general anesthetics during induction or the postoperative recovery period. Differential diagnosis should include medication-related myoclonus and postanoxic myoclonus. Choreoathetosis may occur after cardiac surgery, particularly if cooling and bypass are utilized (145; 95). A report of hemiballism and hemichorea serves to point out that hypotension may result in ischemia of the subthalamic nucleus even following spinal anesthesia (63). There are no specific anesthetic agents to avoid in someone with chorea, although drugs with anticholinergic properties may exacerbate symptoms.
Serena Wong MD
Dr. Wong of St. George's University School of Medicine has no relevant financial relationships to disclose.See Profile
Robert Fekete MD
Dr. Fekete of New York Medical College received consultation fees from Acadia, Acorda, Adamas, Amneal/Impax, Kyowa Kirin, Lundbeck, Neurocrine, and Teva.See Profile
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