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Myoclonic epilepsy myopathy sensory ataxia

(often shortened to MEMSA)
Reviewed June 2011

What is MEMSA?

Myoclonic epilepsy myopathy sensory ataxia, commonly called MEMSA, is part of a group of conditions called the POLG-related disorders. The conditions in this group feature a range of similar signs and symptoms involving muscle-, nerve-, and brain-related functions. The signs and symptoms of MEMSA typically appear during young adulthood. This condition had previously been known as spinocerebellar ataxia with epilepsy (SCAE).

The first symptom of MEMSA is usually cerebellar ataxia, which refers to problems with coordination and balance due to defects in the part of the brain that is involved in coordinating movement (cerebellum). Recurrent seizures (epilepsy) usually develop later, often in combination with uncontrollable muscle jerks (myoclonus). The seizures usually begin in the right arm and spread to become generalized throughout the body. Additionally, affected individuals may have severe brain dysfunction (encephalopathy) or muscle weakness (myopathy). The myopathy can affect muscles close to the center of the body (proximal), such as the muscles of the hips, thighs, upper arms, or neck, or muscles farther away from the center of the body (distal), such as the muscles of the hands or feet. The myopathy may be especially noticeable during exercise (exercise intolerance).

How common is MEMSA?

The prevalence of myoclonic epilepsy myopathy sensory ataxia is unknown.

What genes are related to MEMSA?

MEMSA is caused by mutations in the POLG gene. This gene provides instructions for making one part, the alpha subunit, of a protein called polymerase gamma (pol γ). Pol γ functions in mitochondria, which are structures within cells that use oxygen to convert the energy from food into a form cells can use. Mitochondria each contain a small amount of DNA, known as mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is essential for the normal function of these structures. Pol γ "reads" sequences of mtDNA and uses them as templates to produce new copies of mtDNA in a process called DNA replication.

Most POLG gene mutations change single protein building blocks (amino acids) in the alpha subunit of pol γ. These changes result in a mutated pol γ that has a reduced ability to replicate DNA. Although the mechanism is unknown, mutations in the POLG gene often result in fewer copies of mtDNA (mtDNA depletion), particularly in muscle, brain, or liver cells. MtDNA depletion causes a decrease in cellular energy, which could account for the signs and symptoms of MEMSA.

Read more about the POLG gene.

How do people inherit MEMSA?

This condition is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern, which means both copies of the gene in each cell have mutations. The parents of an individual with an autosomal recessive condition each carry one copy of the mutated gene, but they typically do not show signs and symptoms of the condition.

Where can I find information about diagnosis or management of MEMSA?

These resources address the diagnosis or management of MEMSA and may include treatment providers.

You might also find information on the diagnosis or management of MEMSA in Educational resources and Patient support.

General information about the diagnosis and management of genetic conditions is available in the Handbook. Read more about genetic testing, particularly the difference between clinical tests and research tests.

To locate a healthcare provider, see How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.

Where can I find additional information about MEMSA?

You may find the following resources about MEMSA helpful. These materials are written for the general public.

You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for healthcare professionals and researchers.

What other names do people use for MEMSA?

  • SCAE
  • spinocerebellar ataxia with epilepsy

For more information about naming genetic conditions, see the Genetics Home Reference Condition Naming Guidelines and How are genetic conditions and genes named? in the Handbook.

What if I still have specific questions about MEMSA?

Where can I find general information about genetic conditions?

What glossary definitions help with understanding MEMSA?

acids ; ataxia ; autosomal ; autosomal recessive ; cell ; cerebellum ; depletion ; distal ; DNA ; DNA replication ; encephalopathy ; epilepsy ; gene ; inherited ; mitochondria ; myoclonus ; oxygen ; prevalence ; protein ; proximal ; recessive ; subunit ; symptom

You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.

See also Understanding Medical Terminology.

References (5 links)


The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.

Reviewed: June 2011
Published: February 8, 2016