Placebo Response in Fragile X-associated Tremor/Ataxia Syndrome

Emily J. Hill, Christopher G. Goetz, Glenn T. Stebbins, Randi Hagerman, Bichun Ouyang, Deborah A. Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS) is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by intention tremor, cerebellar ataxia, and executive dysfunction in carriers of a CGG repeat expansion premutation (55–200 repeats) in the fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) gene. Given reports of poor insight in FXTAS, we postulated that patients with FXTAS would be less likely to exhibit placebo response. Objective: To analyze placebo response from the first randomized controlled trial in FXTAS that evaluated cognitive and motor outcomes after 1 year of treatment with memantine. Methods: Data from the placebo arm of the first randomized controlled trial in FXTAS were analyzed. There were 2 coprimary outcomes. Based on studies in Parkinson's disease, placebo responders were defined as individuals with an improvement of at least 50% in the coprimary outcomes. Improvements of 20% and 30% served as secondary cutoff values based on the suggested magnitude of placebo response in other movement disorders. Results: A total of 36 participants in the placebo group completed baseline and follow-up evaluations. The average age was 66 ± 7 years, and 60% were men. Average CGG repeat size was 86 ± 18. A total of 19 participants had stage 3 disease. Only 1 patient showed 50% improvement in both coprimary outcomes. At 30% and 20% improvement, there were 2 and 3 patients showing placebo response in the coprimary outcomes, respectively. Conclusions: Patients with FXTAS exhibited low rates of placebo response in a randomized controlled trial. Further studies on the relationship between baseline insight and placebo responsivity are applicable to FXTAS and other disorders exhibiting cognitive impairment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMovement Disorders Clinical Practice
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2020


  • ataxia
  • fragile X
  • placebo
  • placebo effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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