Focality of upper and lower motor neuron degeneration at the clinical onset of ALS

Neurology. 2007 May 8;68(19):1571-5. doi: 10.1212/01.wnl.0000260965.20021.47.


Objective: To localize and analyze the anatomic distribution of upper motor neuron (UMN) and lower motor neuron (LMN) loss in patients with ALS early in their disease when motor manifestations were still relatively focal using clinical examination signs.

Methods: We reviewed records of 100 patients with ALS who were evaluated when the diagnosis was first established or suspected. From the patient history, we ascertained the body region of first symptoms and the time course. From the physical examination, we separately graded severity of UMN and LMN signs in each body region, indexed these to the body region of first symptoms, and sorted and analyzed the data.

Results: Motor manifestations began in one body region in 98% of patients. UMN and LMN signs were both maximal in these same body regions, but they were independent of each other in severity and their outward distribution, which conformed to neuronal anatomy. The outward distribution of both UMN and LMN signs seemed more directed to caudal body regions than to rostral ones.

Conclusions: Motor neuron degeneration in ALS is a focal process at both upper and lower motor neuron levels of the motor system. At each level, it begins corresponding to the same peripheral body region and then advances contiguously and separately to summate over time.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / diagnosis*
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / physiopathology
  • Arm / innervation
  • Arm / physiopathology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Stem / pathology
  • Brain Stem / physiopathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Leg / innervation
  • Leg / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Neurons*
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiopathology*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / etiology
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / pathology
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology*
  • Time Factors