The future of motor neuron disease: the challenge is in the genes

J Neurol. 2004 Apr;251(4):491-500. doi: 10.1007/s00415-004-0322-6.


Adult-onset motor neuron disease (MND) includes sporadic and familial forms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), lower motor neuron disease including progressive and segmental spinal muscular atrophy (LMND) and primary lateral sclerosis (PLS). ALS/MND can be considered to be a spectrum of neurodegenerative diseases characterised by a preferential degeneration of upper and/or lower motor neurons. ALS and LMND have a complex multifactorial aetiology and a large clinical variability. This combination warrants an increasing genomics approach in future research. Genomics is the structural and functional study of genomes--i. e. the complete set of chromosomes and the genes they contain. Several methods may help to understand gene functions, and every method has led to its own "omics". The study of the complex relationship between on the one hand genomics data, transcriptomics data, proteomics data, and interactomics data and on the other hand the phenotype, is called "phenomics". In phenomics, the extensive and detailed phenotyping by the clinician is a prerequisite for meaningful associations. As a consequence, in ALS/MND clinicians have the task to agree about different clinical subtypes in order to make these associations and hence to gain further insight into the complex pathogenesis and identification of diagnostic markers in ALS/MND. Also, several new approaches in the treatment of ALS/MND are here discussed, including the viral delivery of protective compounds, RNA-interference, and stem cell therapy. Further, we argue that a future challenge is to allow for patients to have early access to multidisciplinary centres with specialist knowledge of ALS/MND. These centres can apply specific models of care for people with ALS/MND, but must be designed in a patient-centred format. Ultimately, these models should be assessed according to their outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Forecasting
  • Genomics / methods*
  • Genomics / trends*
  • Humans
  • Motor Neuron Disease / classification
  • Motor Neuron Disease / diagnosis
  • Motor Neuron Disease / genetics*
  • Motor Neuron Disease / therapy*