Quantitative studies of lower motor neuron degeneration in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: evidence for exponential decay of motor unit numbers and greatest rate of loss at the site of onset

Clin Neurophysiol. 2012 Oct;123(10):2092-8. doi: 10.1016/j.clinph.2012.03.007. Epub 2012 Apr 19.


Objective: To use our Bayesian method of motor unit number estimation (MUNE) to evaluate lower motor neuron degeneration in ALS.

Methods: In subjects with ALS we performed serial MUNE studies. We examined the repeatability of the test and then determined whether the loss of MUs was fitted by an exponential or Weibull distribution.

Results: The decline in motor unit (MU) numbers was well-fitted by an exponential decay curve. We calculated the half life of MUs in the abductor digiti minimi (ADM), abductor pollicis brevis (APB) and/or extensor digitorum brevis (EDB) muscles. The mean half life of the MUs of ADM muscle was greater than those of the APB or EDB muscles. The half-life of MUs was less in the ADM muscle of subjects with upper limb than in those with lower limb onset.

Conclusions: The rate of loss of lower motor neurons in ALS is exponential, the motor units of the APB decay more quickly than those of the ADM muscle and the rate of loss of motor units is greater at the site of onset of disease.

Significance: This shows that the Bayesian MUNE method is useful in following the course and exploring the clinical features of ALS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Median Nerve / pathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Motor Neurons / pathology*
  • Nerve Degeneration / pathology*
  • Peroneal Nerve / pathology
  • Ulnar Nerve / pathology