Mitochondrial encephalomyopathy with corticosteroid dependence

S S Gubbay, G J Hankey, N T Tan, J M Fry

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21 Citations (Scopus)


A 12-year-old boy with corticosteroid-responsive mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, lactic acidosis and stroke-like episodes (MELAS) is described. His mother proved to have an asymptomatic mitochondrial myopathy on examination of a muscle biopsy specimen. Three weeks after the onset of vomiting, headache, ataxia and visual and speech impairment, he presented with a background of somatic growth retardation, deafness and school failure. Examination revealed disorientation, dysphasia, dyspraxia, optic atrophy, hemianopia, hemiparesis and sensory inattention. A cranial computed tomographic scan disclosed a large, low-density area, which was consistent with infarction, in the left posterior hemisphere and marked calcification of the basal ganglia bilaterally. Within two weeks of the commencement of corticosteroid treatment, the neurological dysfunction resolved. Attempts to decrease the dosage of dexamethasone caused an exacerbation of symptoms repeatedly. Two weeks after ceasing corticosteroid therapy, the patient developed a serious neurological relapse and a new, large, low-density area, which resembled an infarction, in the right posterior hemisphere on a computed tomographic scan. The reintroduction of corticosteroid therapy again resulted in the rapid resolution of all symptoms. It became evident that the patient had an exquisitely sensitive corticosteroid dependency, whereby a reduction in the dexamethasone dosage of even 0.25 mg a day caused confusion, headaches and increasing lactic acidaemia. Although it is difficult to assess the impact of various therapies in MELAS because of the episodic natural course of the disease, this remarkable corticosteroid responsiveness also has been noted in four previously reported patients with MELAS syndrome; therefore, it would seem reasonable to suggest that corticosteroid therapy now should be considered as standard treatment for this condition. However, corticosteroid therapy in other forms of mitochondrial disorders still awaits careful evaluation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-3, 106, 108
JournalMedical Journal of Australia
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 1989


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