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Rare Disease Database

Corticobasal Degeneration

NORD gratefully acknowledges Suzee Lee, MD, Assistant Professor, UCSF Memory and Aging Center, for assistance in the preparation of this report.

Synonyms of Corticobasal Degeneration
  • CBD
  • CBGD
  • cortical basal ganglionic degeneration
General Discussion

Corticobasal degeneration (CBD) is a rare progressive neurological disorder characterized by cell loss and deterioration of specific areas of the brain. Affected individuals often initially experience motor abnormalities in one limb that eventually spreads to affect all the arms and legs. Such motor abnormalities include muscle rigidity and the inability to perform purposeful or voluntary movements (apraxia). Affected individuals may have sufficient muscle power for manual tasks, but often have difficulty directing their movements appropriately. Although CBD was historically described as a motor disease, it is now recognized that cognitive and behavioral symptoms also herald CBD and not uncommonly predate motor symptoms. Initial symptoms typically appear in people during the sixth decade, and may include poor coordination or difficulty accomplishing goal-directed tasks (e.g., buttoning a shirt). The exact cause of corticobasal degeneration is unknown.

Because signs and symptoms associated with corticobasal degeneration are frequently caused by other neurodegenerative disorders, researchers use the term “corticobasal syndrome” to indicate the clinical diagnosis based on signs and symptoms. The term “corticobasal degeneration” refers to those meeting the neuropathological criteria for the disorder at autopsy. This is an important distinction because clinicopathological series indicate that about less than half of patients diagnosed with corticobasal syndrome during life actually has corticobasal degeneration at autopsy.

Signs & Symptoms

The symptoms, progression, severity and presentation of corticobasal degeneration can vary greatly from one individual to another. It is important to note that affected individuals may not have all of the symptoms discussed below. Affected individuals should talk to their physician and medical team about their specific case, associated symptoms and overall prognosis.

In many cases, affected individuals develop progressive stiffening or tightening of muscles in the limbs (progressive asymmetric rigidity). Affected individuals are often unable to make voluntary, purposeful movements with the affected limb (apraxia). Affected individuals have sufficient muscle power for manual tasks but have difficulty directing their movements appropriately. Difficulties with the affected limb progressively worsen over time. People with corticobasal degeneration may first become aware of the disorder when they have difficulty coordinating movements in the performance of manual tasks such as buttoning a shirt, combing their hair or gesturing with their hands. Affected individuals often described their actions as stiff, clumsy or uncoordinated. In some cases, affected individuals may be unaware of the movement of a limb or unable to control the movement of a limb (alien limb syndrome). Symptoms typically begin on one side of the body (unilateral), but usually progress over time to affect both sides and all four limbs. In rare cases, the legs may be affected before the arms.

Additional symptoms of corticobasal degeneration may include a slight tremor while in particular positions (postural tremor) or while performing a task (action tremor), and/or exaggerated slowness of movements (bradykinesia) or lack of movement (akinesia). Sudden, brief involuntary muscle spasms that cause jerky movements (myoclonus) may also occur. In some cases, limb dystonia may be present. Dystonia is a general term for a group of neurological conditions characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that force a certain part(s) of the body into abnormal, sometimes painful, movements and positions (postures). Affected individuals may also develop contractures, a condition in which a joint becomes permanently fixed in a bent (flexed) or straightened (extended) position, completely or partial restricting the movement of the affected joint.

Affected individuals may also have speech and language abnormalities including difficulties understanding or expressing language (aphasia), difficulty saying what they want to say despite knowing the right words (apraxia of speech) and speech difficulties due to problems with the muscles that enable speech (dysarthria). Additional symptoms that may occur include difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), an inability to control eyelid blinking, and/or an uncoordinated walk (ataxic gait). Eventually, affected individuals may be unable to walk unassisted.

For many years, corticobasal degeneration was seen as a neurological condition primarily associated with movement disorders. In recent years, researchers have noted that cognitive and behavioral abnormalities occur more frequently than initially believed. In some cases, the signs and symptoms of dementia may even precede the development of motor symptoms. Initial cognitive symptoms include a nonfluent, progressive aphasia and impairments in executive function. Individuals with corticobasal degeneration can develop a more global loss of intellectual abilities (dementia), usually later in the course of the disease. Affected individuals may also exhibit memory loss, impulsiveness, disinhibition, apathy, irritability, reduced attention span and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

As corticobasal degeneration progresses, affected individuals may become unable to communicate effectively. Eventually, affected individuals may become bedridden and susceptible to life-threatening complications such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, a blood infection (sepsis) or blockage of one or more of the main arteries of the lungs, usually due to blood clots (pulmonary embolism).


The exact, underlying cause of corticobasal degeneration is unknown. Researchers believe that multiple different factors contribute to the development of the disorder including various genetic and environmental factors as well as factors related to aging.

The symptoms of corticobasal degeneration develop due to the progressive deterioration of tissue in different areas of the brain. Nerve cell loss occurs in specific areas, leading to atrophy or shrinkage in specific lobes of the brain. The severity and type of symptoms depend on the area of the brain affected by the disease. The cerebral cortex and basal ganglia are the two areas of the brain most typically affected, although other areas may become involved. The cerebral cortex is the outer layer of nerve tissue called gray matter that surrounds the cerebral hemispheres. The cerebral cortex is involved with higher brain functions including voluntary movement, memory and learning, and coordination of sensory information. The basal ganglia is a cluster of nerve cells that is involved with motor and learning functions.

Researchers have determined that a protein called tau is involved in the development of corticobasal degeneration. Tau is a specific type of protein normally found in brain cells. The function of tau within nerve cells is complex and not fully understood, although it is believed to be essential for the normal function of brain cells. In corticobasal degeneration, abnormal levels of tau accumulate in certain brain cells, eventually causing their deterioration. The exact role, that tau plays in the development of corticobasal degeneration is not fully understood. Abnormalities involving tau are also seen in other neurodegenerative brain disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, Pick disease, progressive supranuclear palsy, Niemann-Pick disease type C and frontotemporal dementia with parkinsonism linked to chromosome 17 (FTDP-17). These disorders collectively are referred to as “tauopathies.”

Affected Populations

Corticobasal degeneration is believed to affect males and females in equal numbers. However, in some studies it was reported to be more common in women. Symptoms usually begin between the ages of 50-70. No confirmed cases of corticobasal degeneration have been reported in the medical literature in individuals under 40. The disorder is estimated to affect 5 people per 100,000 in the general population, with approximately .62-.92 new cases per year per 100,000 people. However, cases may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed making it difficult to determine the true frequency of corticobasal degeneration in the general population.

Related Disorders

Symptoms of the following disorders can be similar to those of corticobasal degeneration. Comparisons may be useful for a differential diagnosis.

Tauopathies is a general term for a group of neurodegenerative disorders characterized by the abnormal accumulation of the protein tau in certain nerve cells. Abnormal accumulation and function of tau is believed to be a significant factor the development of all these disorders, although the exact role of tau is not fully understood. These disorders are characterized by movement disorders and progressive memory loss deterioration of intellectual abilities (dementia). Tauopathies include Alzheimer’s disease, Pick disease, progressive supranuclear palsy, and frontotemporal dementia with parkinsonism linked to chromosome 17 (FTDP-17). (For more information on these disorders, choose the specific disorder name as your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)

Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is a rare degenerative neurological disorder characterized by loss of balance and impaired walking; loss of control of voluntary eye movement, especially in the downward direction; abnormal muscle tone (rigidity); speech difficulties (dysarthria); and problems related to swallowing and eating (dysphagia). Affected individuals frequently experience personality changes and cognitive impairment. Forgetfulness and memory loss are common. Symptoms typically begin in the 60s, but can start as early as the 40s. The symptoms progressively worsen over time. The exact cause of PSP is unknown. PSP is often misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or other neurodegenerative disorders. (For more information on this disorder, choose “progressive supranuclear palsy” as your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease associated with an abnormal protein deposited in cells called alpha-synuclein. However, if brain structures affected in Parkinson’s disease are damaged, parkinsonian symptoms not due to Parkinson’s disease may also occur as a result of head trauma, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), obstructions (infarcts), or tumors deep within the cerebral hemispheres (cerebrum) and base of the brain (i.e., basal ganglia), or exposure to certain drugs and toxins. Parkinsonian symptoms can include involuntary, resting tremor, muscular stiffness or lack of flexibility (rigidity), slowness of movement (bradykinesia) and difficulty controlling voluntary movements. (For more information on this disorder, choose “Parkinson’s” as your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)

Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a rare progressive neurological disorder characterized by a varying combination of symptoms. Affected individuals may experience symptoms similar to those found in Parkinson’s disease (parkinsonism); cerebellar signs such as progressive impairment of the ability to coordinate voluntary movements (cerebellar ataxia); and impaired functioning of the portion of the nervous system (autonomic nervous system) that regulates certain involuntary body functions (autonomic failure) such as heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, and bowel and bladder control. The exact cause of multiple system atrophy is unknown. (For more information on this disorder, choose “multiple system atrophy” as your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)

Conditions such as a stroke or a brain tumor can mimic the symptoms of corticobasal degeneration and neuroimaging is used to exclude these conditions.


A diagnosis of corticobasal degeneration is suspected if characteristic neurologic symptoms occur in a slowly progressive course in the absence of a structural lesion such as a stroke or tumor. Distinguishing corticobasal degeneration from other, similar neurodegenerative disorders is difficult. There are no specific tests for a diagnosis of corticobasal degeneration. A clinical diagnosis is made based upon a thorough neurological exam involving a variety of specialized tests.

Clinical Testing and Work-Up

An electroencephalogram (EEG), a test which measures the electrical activity of the brain is generally unhelpful and not diagnostic of neurodegenerative disease.

Imaging techniques such as computerized tomography (CT) scanning and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to rule out other conditions or reveal characterized brain tissue degeneration within the cerebral cortex and basal ganglia. During CT scanning, a computer and x-rays are used to create a film showing cross-sectional images of certain tissue structures including the brain. An MRI uses magnetic field pulses to produce cross-sectional images of particular organs and bodily tissues such as the brain.

Standard Therapies


There is no specific treatment that slows down the progression of corticobasal degeneration. Treatment is directed toward the specific symptoms that are apparent in each individual, although most cases prove resistant to such therapy.

Affected individuals may be treated with certain drugs such as levodopa and similar medications that are normally used to treat Parkinson’s disease. These drugs are generally ineffective, but may help with the slowness or stiffness some individuals experience. Myoclonus may be controlled with medications such as clonazepam, however, benzodiazepines should be used sparingly as they may have undesired side effects in these patients. Botulinum toxin (Botox®) has been used to treat contractures and pain, but do not restore the ability to control movements. Baclofen is another drug that may be used to treat muscle rigidity.

Physical therapy may be beneficial in maintaining the mobility and range of motion of stiffened, rigid joints and prevent the development of contractures. Occupational therapy is beneficial in assessing the safety of an affected individual’s home and in determining what adaptive medical equipment may increase a person’s independence. Speech therapy may be beneficial in treating individuals where speech and language abnormalities associated with corticobasal degeneration. Affected individuals may need devices such as a cane or walker to assist in walking.

A report offering encouragement, advice, and support to those caring for a loved one with corticobasal degeneration, entitled the CBGD Caregivers Report, is available free of charge to all who would find it helpful. It can be downloaded at

Investigational Therapies

Information on current clinical trials is posted on the Internet at All studies receiving U.S. government funding, and some supported by private industry, are posted on this government web site.

For information about clinical trials being conducted at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, contact the NIH Patient Recruitment Office:

Toll-free: (800) 411-1222

TTY: (866) 411-1010

For information about clinical trials sponsored by private sources, in the main, contact:

Contact for additional information about corticobasal degeneration:

UCSF Memory and Aging Center

675 Nelson Rising Lane, Suite 190

San Francisco, CA 94158

NORD Member Organizations
  • Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration (AFTD)
    • 2700 Horizon Drive, Suite 120
    • King of Prussia, PA 19406
    • Phone: (267) 514-7221
    • Toll-free: (866) 507-7222
    • Email: [email protected]
    • Website:
  • CurePSP, Inc.
    • 404 5th Ave
    • New York, NY 10018 United States
    • Phone: (347) 294-2873
    • Toll-free: (800) 457-4777
    • Email: [email protected]
    • Website:
Other Organizations
  • Genetic and Rare Diseases (GARD) Information Center
    • PO Box 8126
    • Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8126
    • Phone: (301) 251-4925
    • Toll-free: (888) 205-2311
    • Website:
  • NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
    • P.O. Box 5801
    • Bethesda, MD 20824
    • Phone: (301) 496-5751
    • Toll-free: (800) 352-9424
    • Website:
  • Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, Inc.
    • 1359 Broadway
    • Suite 1509
    • New York, NY 10018
    • Phone: (212) 923-4700
    • Toll-free: (800) 457-6676
    • Email: [email protected]
    • Website:
  • UCSF Memory and Aging Center
    • 350 Parnassus Avenue
    • Suite 905
    • San Francisco, CA 94117
    • Phone: (415) 353-2057
    • Email: [email protected]
    • Website:

Dickson DW. Sporadic Tauopathies: Pick’s disease, corticobasal degeneration, progressive supranuclear palsy and argyrophilic grain disease. In: The Neuropathology of Dementia, 2nd ed. Esiri M, Lee VM-Y, Trojanowski JQ, editors. 2004 Cambridge University Press, New York, NY. pp. 227-256.

Litvan I. Corticobasal Degeneration. NORD Guide to Rare Disorders. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Philadelphia, PA. 2003:524-525.

Lee SE, Rabinovici GD, Mayo MC, et al. Clinicopathological correlations in corticobasal degeneration. Ann Neurol. 2011;70:327-340.

Hassan A, Whitwell JL, Josephs KA. The corticobasal syndrome-Alzheimer’s disease conundrum. Expert Rev Neurother. 2011;11:1569-1578.

Ludolph AC, Kassubek J, Landwehrmeye BG, et al. Tauopathies with parkinsonism: clinical spectrum, neuropathologic basis, biological markers, and treatment options. Eur J Neurol. 2009;16:297-309.

Webb A, Miller B, Bonasera S, et al. Role of the tau gene region chromosome inversion in progressive supranuclear palsy, corticobasal degeneration, and related disorders. Arch Neurol. 2008;65:1473-1478.

Geda YE, Boeve BF, Negash S, et al. Neuropsychiatric features in 36 pathologically confirmed cases of corticobasal degeneration. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2007;19:77-80.

Pittman AM, Fung HC, de Silva R. Untangling the tau gene association with neurodegenerative disorders. Hum Mol Genet. 2006;15:R188-195.

Goedert M, Jakes R. Mutations causing neurodegenerative tauopathies. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2005;1739:240-250.

Boeve BF, Lang AE, Litvan I. Corticobasal degeneration and its relationship to progressive supranuclear palsy and frontotemporal dementia. Ann Neurol. 2003;54:S15-S19.

Dickson DW, Bergeron C, Chin SS, et al. Office of Rare Diseases neuropathologic criteria for corticobasal degeneration. J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2002;61:935-946.

Lee VM, Goedert M, Trojanowski JQ. Neurodegenerative tauopathies. Annu Rev Neurosci. 2001;24:121-159.

Barrett AM. Cortical Basal Ganglionic Degeneration. Emedicine Journal, June 19, 2012. Available at: Accessed on: 09/01/2012.

Dalvi AI, Bloomfield AS. Parkinson-Plus Syndromes. Emedicine Journal, February 7, 2012. Available at: Accessed on: 09/01/2012.

Years Published

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Rare Disease Database Corticobasal Degeneration NORD gratefully acknowledges Suzee Lee, MD, Assistant Professor, UCSF Memory and Aging Center, for assistance in the preparation of this report.

Overview – Corticobasal degeneration

Corticobasal degeneration (CBD) is a rare condition that can cause gradually worsening problems with movement, speech, memory and swallowing.

It’s often also called corticobasal syndrome (CBS).

CBD is caused by increasing numbers of brain cells becoming damaged or dying over time.

Most cases of CBD develop in adults aged between 50 and 70.

CBD symptoms

The symptoms of CBD get gradually worse over time. They are very variable and many people only have a few of them.

Symptoms can include:

  • difficulty controlling your limb on one side of the body (a “useless” hand)
  • muscle stiffness
  • shaking (tremors), jerky movements and spasms (dystonia)
  • problems with balance and co-ordination
  • slow and slurred speech
  • symptoms of dementia, such as memory and visual problems
  • slow, effortful speech
  • difficulty swallowing

One limb is usually affected at first, before spreading to the rest of the body. The rate at which the symptoms progress varies widely from person to person.

Read more about the symptoms of CBD.

What causes CBD?

CBD occurs when brain cells in certain parts of the brain are damaged as a result of a build-up of a protein called tau.

The surface of the brain (cortex) is affected, as well as a deep part of the brain called the basal ganglia.

Tau occurs naturally in the brain and is usually broken down before it reaches high levels. In people with CBD, it isn’t broken down properly and forms harmful clumps in brain cells.

CBD has been linked to changes in certain genes, but these genetic links are weak and the risk to other family members is very low.

Diagnosing CBD

There’s no single test for CBD. Instead, the diagnosis is based on the pattern of your symptoms. Your doctor will try to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as Parkinson’s disease or a stroke.

You may need to have a brain scan to look for other possible causes of your symptoms, as well as tests of your memory, concentration and ability to understand language.

The diagnosis must be made or confirmed by a consultant with expertise in CBD. This will usually be a neurologist (a specialist in conditions affecting the brain and nerves).

Treatments for CBD

As someone with CBD can be affected in many different ways, treatment and care is best provided by a team of health and social care professionals working together. Treatments may include:

  • medication – to improve stiffness and muscle spasms, sleep and mood, pain or memory
  • physiotherapy – to help with movement and balance difficulties
  • speech and language therapy – to help with communication and swallowing problems
  • occupational therapy – to improve the skills and abilities needed for daily activities at home
  • palliative care and advanced care planning


There is currently no treatment that has been shown to stop CBD getting gradually worse, although treatments can reduce many of the symptoms.

Good care and assistance can help someone with CBD be more independent and enjoy a better quality of life, but the condition will eventually put them at risk of serious complications.

CBD usually changes very slowly. Many people find it helpful to plan ahead with their doctors (GP and specialist) to make decisions about what to do in later stages of the illness.

Difficulty swallowing can cause choking, or inhaling food or liquid into the airways. This can lead to pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.

As a result of these complications, the average life expectancy for someone with CBD is around 6 to 8 years from when their symptoms start. However, this is only an average and CBD is very variable.

Information about you

If you have CBD, your clinical team will pass information about you on to the National Congenital Anomaly and Rare Diseases Registration Service (NCARDRS).

This helps scientists look for better ways to prevent and treat this condition. You can opt out of the register at any time.

Page last reviewed: 20 August 2018
Next review due: 20 August 2021

Read about corticobasal degeneration (CBD), a rare condition where brain cells become damaged over time and certain sections of the brain start to shrink.