A population of 31 patients with sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was selected for a prospective open study based on treatment with riluzole. A neurophysiological evaluation was performed by means of single and paired transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). The examined parameters, excitability threshold, motor evoked potential (MEP) duration, silent period (SP) duration and time course of intracortical inhibition to paired TMS after 6 months treatment, were matched against those recorded from the patients themselves before the beginning of treatment and from 20 (single TMS) or 10 (paired TMS) age-matched control subjects. Normal behaviour of the SP in response to increasing TMS was found in the treated patients; they showed a significant linear correlation between these two parameters (r=0.96) comparable to that calculated for controls (r=0.98), and significantly different with respect to drug-free patients (r=0.8, P=0.014). A significant reduced size of the 'conditioned' MEPs to paired stimulation was documented in the treated patients compared with the untreated patients (P=0.002). Our neurophysiological contribution to the assessment of the effect of riluzole on the motor cortical inhibitory property in ALS may be considered a setting for controlled trials in extended patient series, even in a pre-clinical phase.