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September 1990

Neurologic and Evoked Potential Abnormalities in Subtle Cobalamin Deficiency States, Including Deficiency Without Anemia and With Normal Absorption of Free Cobalamin

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Neurology (Dr Karnaze) and Medicine (Dr Carmel), University of Southern California and the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center, Los Angeles, and the Department of Neurology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque (Dr Karnaze).

Arch Neurol. 1990;47(9):1008-1012. doi:10.1001/archneur.1990.00530090082017

• The meaning of a low serum cobalamin level when the classic findings of pernicious anemia are lacking is undergoing reevaluation. We therefore studied the neurologic status of 11 patients who had low cobalamin levels without definite hematologic evidence of deficiency. Neurologic evaluation included pattern-shift visual and median and posterior tibial nerve somatosensory evoked potentials. None of the patients had megaloblastic changes in the blood or bone marrow, although 7 of the 11 had subtle cellular cobalamin disturbances demonstrated by an abnormal deoxyuridine suppression test result. Seven patients had normal Schilling test results and 2 had borderline results; however, 2 of the 5 patients tested further had food-cobalamin malabsorption, while a third had prepernicious anemia. The patients displayed a variety of neurologic problems, including dementia, depression, myelopathy, neuropathy, and seizure disorder; 1 patient was neurologically normal by clinical criteria. Evoked potential abnormalities were demonstrable in 8 of the 9 patients with subtle cobalamin deficiency, and in at least 5 cases the disturbance was central. In contrast, both patients whose low serum cobalamin levels were found on evaluation to be spurious had normal evoked potentials. Evoked potential abnormalities improved in the one patient retested after cobalamin therapy. These findings demonstrate that neurologic deficits occur not only in classic cobalamin deficiency but also in subtle or atypical cobalamin deficiency states in which anemia is absent and Schilling test results are normal. Electrophysiologic evidence of neurologic impairment is often present, even in patients without obvious clinical neurologic abnormalities.

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