The mechanisms by which mutations of the SOD1 gene cause selective motor neuron death remain uncertain, although interest continues to focus on the role of peroxynitrite, altered peroxidase activity of mutant SOD1, changes in intracellular copper homeostasis, protein aggregation, and changes in the function of glutamate transporters leading to excitotoxicity. Neurofilaments and peripherin appear to play some part in motor neuron degeneration, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is occasionally associated with mutations of the neurofilament heavy chain gene. Linkage to several chromosomal loci has been established for other forms of familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but no new genes have been identified. In the clinical field, interest has been shown in the population incidence and prevalence of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and the clinical variants that cause diagnostic confusion. Transcranial magnetic stimulation has been used to detect upper motor neuron damage and to explore cortical excitability in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and magnetic resonance imaging including proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy and diffusion weighted imaging also provide useful information on the upper motor neuron lesion. Aspects of care including assisted ventilation, nutrition, and patient autonomy are addressed, and underlying these themes is the requirement to measure quality of life with a new disease-specific instrument. Progress has been made in developing practice parameters. Riluzole remains the only drug to slow disease progression, although interventions such as non-invasive ventilation and gastrostomy also extend survival.