In recent years, numerous morphologic changes have been identified in the essential tremor (ET) cerebellar cortex, distinguishing ET from control brains. These findings have not been fully contextualized within a broader degenerative disease spectrum, thus limiting their interpretability. Building off a prior study and doubling the sample size, the authors conducted comparative analyses in a postmortem series of 320 brains on the severity and patterning of cerebellar cortex degenerative changes in ET (n = 100), other neurodegenerative disorders of the cerebellum [spinocerebellar ataxias (SCAs, n = 47, including 13 SCA3 and 34 SCA1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 14); Friedreich's ataxia (FA, n = 13); multiple system atrophy (MSA), n = 29], and other disorders that may involve the cerebellum [Parkinson's disease (PD), n = 62; dystonia, n = 19] versus controls (n = 50). Data were generated on 37 quantitative morphologic metrics, grouped into 8 broad categories: Purkinje cell (PC) loss, heterotopic PCs, PC dendritic changes, PC axonal changes (torpedoes), PC axonal changes (other than torpedoes), PC axonal changes (torpedo-associated), basket cell axonal hypertrophy, and climbing fiber-PC synaptic changes. Principal component analysis of z scored raw data across all diagnoses (11,651 data items) revealed that diagnostic groups were not uniform with respect to pathology. Dystonia and PD each differed from controls in only 4/37 and 5/37 metrics, respectively, whereas ET differed in 21, FA in 10, SCA3 in 10, MSA in 21, and SCA1/2/6/7/8/14 in 27. Pathological changes were generally on the milder end of the degenerative spectrum in ET, FA and SCA3, and on the more severe end of that spectrum in SCA1/2/6/7/8/14. Comparative analyses across morphologic categories demonstrated differences in relative expression, defining distinctive patterns of changes in these groups. This work presents a robust and reproducible method that identifies somewhat distinctive signatures of degenerative changes in the cerebellar cortex that mark each of these disorders.

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