Background: Spinocerebellar ataxia type 38 (SCA38) is an autosomal dominant cerebellar ataxia caused by pathogenic variants in the elongation of very long chain fatty acids-like 5 gene (ELOVL5). Improvement of ataxia with a docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) replacement therapy has been reported.
Case presentation: A 73-year-old man of Hispanic descent presented with gait and limb ataxia, dysarthria, slow and hypometric saccades, hearing loss, mild cognitive impairment, and hypopalesthesia. The initial scale for the assessment and rating of ataxia (SARA) score was 11. After a negative routine workout for ataxia and testing for common forms due to expanded repeats, whole-exome sequencing (WES) identified a heterozygous variant (c.327+1G>A) in the ELOVL5 gene that was predicted to have a negative effect on splicing but was categorized as a Variant of Uncertain Significance (VUS). The patient was started on DHA 600 mg/day. Four months later, the patient showed a considerable reduction in the scale for the assessment and rating of ataxia (SARA) score, from 11 to 5 points, with a clear improvement in gait and limb ataxia that was sustained at 24 months of follow-up.
Conclusions: We illustrate the case of a patient presenting with a variant considered genetically and biochemically of uncertain significance. Despite being a VUS, its location in a gene that is known to cause ataxia (SCA38), as well as a compatible phenotype, led to the interpretation of this variant as probably pathogenic from a clinical practice standpoint, especially considering prior reports that showed clinical improvement with a specific, over-the-counter, pharmacological treatment. A further satisfactory response to treatment supported our clinical approach.