By: Allie Kang
Cerebellar hypoplasia (CH) is a condition that impacts both humans and animals from birth and is caused by the deformation or the absence of the cerebellum in the brain. Primarily focusing on the presence of cerebellar hypoplasia in dogs, the limited experience surrounding this condition has resulted in a narrow selection of accessible resources that work to cover the potential etiology, the study as to why developmental failures may occur in the first place, as well as detailed research revolving around the overall complications and prognosis of this neurological disorder. Nevertheless, even as the frequency of this condition remains relatively low, the observations surrounding the effects on life are just as important as those of other commonly known disorders.
As mentioned, as this condition is a result of unusual brain development, it is crucial to note that the cerebellum, located in the back of the brain, serves an extremely crucial role in stabilizing movement and maintaining coordination. Therefore, it can easily be inferred that this abnormality leads to altercations in the ability to move with generally associated symptoms understood to be but not limited to ataxia (lack of muscle control and coordination), dysmetria (failure to properly assess speed and distance), and intention tremors (involuntary, excessive movement stimulated by certain motions).
Even with this understanding, implications surrounding the influence this holds over mental health are almost unknown despite preestablished assumptions that claim that standard quality of life can be preserved. Not only is this due to the minimal acknowledgment of the condition, but also a part of the human inability to properly and accurately assess both pain and mental health in animals as a whole. This makes a large part of medical diagnosis in the field of animal psychology reliant on the observed, behavioral irregularities that both the veterinary professional and the owner account for. Therefore, as many cerebellar hypoplasia patients tend not to show any external signs of dissatisfaction, conclusions have claimed that little to no changes are made in the quality of life of these dogs.
Despite this, however, further examinations of internal differences may provide refutations in an attempt to redefine the accepted inference. This can be achieved through the examination and comparison of white and gray brain matter depicted through the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a widely used medical scanning equipment that generates detailed images of selected portions of the body. For this case, transverse images of the head, which enable depictions of the brain, allow for a clear presentation of both brain matters as well as increased opportunities to visualize the measured volumes of each matter type.
To define, white matter is brain tissue found in the deeper regions of the brain, primarily working to protect nerve fibers and send information throughout the body. Gray matter surrounds this white matter and works with sensory activity and assists with controlling muscle movement. Although the measured volumes of these matters may fluctuate depending on the individual, there is an accepted range of the measured value deemed normal.
But how much information does the presence or absence of white and gray matter hold and why is it so important? Well, with a greater understanding of brain matter, connections of trends can be made to make highly supported conclusions encompassing mental health. This is essentially completed by tying back the observable amounts of matter in the brain to those of known negative mental disorders, knowing that abnormalities in brain matter infer some sort of neurological condition.
According to Shad et al., when looking at brain matter patterns found in disorders like major depressive disorder, a known life-degenerating mental disorder, research points to obvious data that shows that depressed subjects had significantly lower values of gray matter and increased hyperintensities, highly contrasted depictions of the MRI that infer lesions, in the white matter when compared to the control group of mentally stable individuals. This, in a sense, creates a new perspective which suggests that decreases in both brain matters can suggest that quality of life is subject to be decreased as well.
Although MRI scans of cerebellar hypoplasia are not directly available online in published journals or articles, observing scans of conditions like lateral ventricular enlargement, another brain structure impacting condition in which the ventricles of the brain are amplified, can provide a deeper understanding of what the expected results may be.
Within this set of comparisons, MRI scans and graphical values show a significant deficiency in white matter volumes and a slight, yet clear contrast in the measured gray matter volumes. Showing similar shortfalls of brain matter as seen in major depressive disorder, it can be implied that conditions like lateral ventricular enlargement, which acts as the comparative standard for cerebellar hypoplasia, do in fact hold an unfavorable effect on the overall quality of life of dogs diagnosed.
These findings and overall discussion can help to raise awareness of the condition, encouraging further research that works to benefit and create more comforting aspects of life for dogs with this condition as treatment options may only work to relieve the severity of the symptoms and not fully eradicate it. Further, while increased research focusing uniquely on cerebellar hypoplasia in dogs as a whole would be necessary before solidifying this conclusion as final, this method of analyzing mental status over visual assessments helps to offer a deeper insight and perspective on what brain matter abnormalities may infer and further override the current postulation which holds cerebellar hypoplasia as holding no impact on a dog’s quality of life.
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