ALS motor phenotype heterogeneity, focality, and spread: deconstructing motor neuron degeneration

Neurology. 2009 Sep 8;73(10):805-11. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181b6bbbd.


Heterogeneity of motor phenotypes is a clinically well-recognized fundamental aspect of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and is determined by variability of 3 independent primary attributes: body region of onset; relative mix of upper motor neuron (UMN) and lower motor neuron (LMN) deficits; and rate of progression. Motor phenotypes are determined by the anatomy of the underlying neuropathology and the common defining elements underlying their heterogeneity are that motor neuron degeneration is fundamentally a focal process and that it spreads contiguously through the 3-dimensional anatomy of the UMN and LMN levels, thus causing seemingly complex and varied clinical manifestations. This suggests motor neuron degeneration in ALS is in actuality a very orderly and actively propagating process and that fundamental molecular mechanisms may be uniform and their chief properties deduced. This also suggests opportunities for translational research to seek pathobiology directly in the less affected regions of the nervous system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / diagnosis*
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / genetics
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Nerve Degeneration / diagnosis*
  • Nerve Degeneration / genetics
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiopathology*
  • Neural Conduction / physiology
  • Phenotype