An autopsy case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease with a prion protein gene codon 180 mutation presenting with pathological laughing and an exaggerated startle reaction

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A 78-year-old Japanese woman presented with slow progressive disorientation and memory disturbances. Pathological laughing was observed at an early disease stage and continued for several months. Around the same time, the patient began to exhibit an exaggerated startle reaction and mild myoclonus. The pathological laughing and startle reaction disappeared before the patient reached an akinetic mutism state approximately 16 months after symptom onset. MRI showed extensive hyperintensity of the cerebral cortex and striatum on diffusion-weighted images, and swelling in the cerebral cortex on T2-weighted and fluid attenuated inversion recovery images. A prion protein (PrP) gene analysis revealed a V180I mutation with methionine homozygosity at codon 129. Neuropathological examination showed extensive spongiform changes with characteristic various-sized and non-confluent (VaSNoC) vacuoles in the cerebral neocortex and striatum. Gliosis and hypertrophic astrocytosis were generally mild in character. Neurons were relatively preserved in number. We believe that pathological laughing and an exaggerated startle reaction are possible pathognomonic findings of V180I genetic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Based on the pathological findings of the present case, the presence of the VaSNoC-type spongiform changes with relative preservation of the neurons in the cerebral cortex and a lack of apparent brainstem involvement are associated at least in part with the pathological laughing and startle reaction.

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