Study of 962 patients indicates progressive muscular atrophy is a form of ALS

Neurology. 2009 Nov 17;73(20):1686-92. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181c1dea3.


Background: Progressive muscular atrophy (PMA) is clinically characterized by signs of lower motor neuron dysfunction and may evolve into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Whether PMA is actually a form of ALS has important consequences clinically and for therapeutic trials. We compared the survival of patients with PMA or ALS to analyze the clinical features that influence survival in PMA.

Methods: We reviewed the medical records of patients with PMA (n = 91) or ALS (n = 871) from our ALS Center and verified survival by telephoning the families or using the National Death Index.

Results: In PMA, patients were more likely to be male (p < 0.001), older (p = 0.007), and lived longer (p = 0.01) than in ALS. Cox model analysis suggested that the risk of death increased with age at onset in both patient groups (p < 0.005). Upper motor neuron (UMN) signs developed in 22% of patients with PMA within 61 months after diagnosis. Demographic and other clinical variables did not differ at diagnosis between those who did or did not develop UMN signs. In PMA, the factors present at diagnosis that predicted shorter survival were greater number of body regions affected, lower forced vital capacity, and lower ALS Functional Rating Scale-Revised score. Noninvasive ventilation and gastrostomy were used frequently in PMA.

Conclusion: Although patients with progressive muscular atrophy (PMA) tended to live longer than those with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), shorter survival in PMA is associated with the same risk factors that predict poor survival in ALS. Additionally, PMA is relentlessly progressive, and UMN involvement can occur, as also reported in imaging and postmortem studies. For these reasons, PMA should be considered a form of ALS.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Age of Onset
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / classification*
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / diagnosis
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / epidemiology*
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / mortality
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Neuron Disease / classification
  • Motor Neuron Disease / diagnosis
  • Motor Neuron Disease / epidemiology
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / classification*
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / diagnosis
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / epidemiology*
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / mortality
  • Prognosis
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Factors