Atypical motor neuron disease and related motor syndromes

Semin Neurol. 2001 Jun;21(2):177-87. doi: 10.1055/s-2001-15263.


There is an imperative need for the early diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/motor neuron disease (ALS/MND) in the current era of emerging treatments. When evaluating the patient with ALS/MND, the neurologist must consider a number of other motor neuron disorders and related motor syndromes that may have clinical features resembling ALS/MND. The revised Airlie House-El Escorial diagnostic criteria have been established through the consensus of experts meeting at workshops. However, by definition, using these criteria a patient is likely to have fairly advanced disease at the time of a definitive ALS/MND diagnosis. The reasons for the difficulty in making an early ALS/MND diagnosis are several. No surrogate diagnostic marker currently exists for ALS/MND. ALS/MND at its onset is heterogeneous in clinical presentation, its clinical course is variable, and several clinical variants are recognized. In addition, certain motor syndromes, such as monomelic amyotrophy, postpolio muscular atrophy, and multifocal motor neuropathy, can clinically mimic ALS/MND. Therefore, not only may the diagnosis of ALS/MND be clinically missed in the early stages, but worse, the patient may be wrongly labeled as having ALS/MND. The diagnosis of ALS/MND requires a combination of upper motor neuron (UMN) and lower motor neuron (LMN) involvement. Motor syndromes in which the deficit is restricted to the UMN or LMN through the entire course of the disease are described as atypical MND in this review. Approximately 5% of patients with ALS/MND have overt dementia with a characteristic frontal affect. ALS/MND with parkinsonism and dementia is rare outside the western Pacific region. The clinical course of motor disorder in these overlap syndromes does not differ from that in typical ALS/MND.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / diagnosis*
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / physiopathology*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Motor Neuron Disease / diagnosis*
  • Motor Neuron Disease / physiopathology*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Syndrome
  • Time Factors