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NINDS Olivopontocerebellar Atrophy Information Page

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What is Olivopontocerebellar Atrophy?

Olivopontocerebellar atrophy (OPCA) is a term that describes the degeneration of neurons in specific areas of the brain – the cerebellum, pons, and inferior olives.  OPCA is present in several neurodegenerative syndromes, including inherited and non-inherited forms of ataxia (such as the hereditary spinocerebellar ataxia known as Machado-Joseph disease) and multiple system atrophy (MSA), with which it is primarily associated.

OPCA  may also be found in the brains of individuals with prion disorders and inherited metabolic diseases.  The characteristic areas of brain damage that indicate OPCA can be seen by imaging the brain using CT scans or MRI studies. 

Is there any treatment?

There is no specific treatment for OPCA. Physicians may try different medications to treat the ataxia, tremor, and rigidity that are associated with the disorder. Other treatments are directed at specific symptoms. Stiffness, spasms, sleep disorders, depression, and tremor may be improved with medication. A physical therapist may be helpful in establishing a routine of exercise and stretching, and in obtaining devices or appliances to assist in walking and other daily activities.

What is the prognosis?

There is no cure for OPCA. The disorder is slowly progressive with death usually occurring approximately 20 years after onset.

What research is being done?

The NINDS supports and conducts a broad range of basic and clinical research on cerebellar degeneration, including work aimed at finding the cause(s) of OPCA and ways to treat, cure, and, ultimately, prevent the disease. There has been great progress recently since the genes for several of the hereditary forms of OPCA have been found.

NIH Patient Recruitment for Olivopontocerebellar Atrophy Clinical Trials


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National Ataxia Foundation (NAF)
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Tel: 763-553-0020
Fax: 763-553-0167

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
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Danbury, CT 06810
Tel: 203-744-0100 Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
Fax: 203-798-2291

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Prepared by:
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National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892

NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

Last Modified April 16, 2014