Hereditary spastic paraplegia: More than an upper motor neuron disease

Rev Neurol (Paris). 2017 May;173(5):352-360. doi: 10.1016/j.neurol.2017.03.034. Epub 2017 Apr 24.


Hereditary spastic paraplegias (HSPs) are a group of rare inherited neurological diseases characterized by extreme heterogeneity in both their clinical manifestations and genetic backgrounds. Based on symptoms, HSPs can be divided into pure forms, presenting with pyramidal signs leading to lower-limb spasticity, and complex forms, when additional neurological or extraneurological symptoms are detected. The clinical diversity of HSPs partially reflects their underlying genetic backgrounds. To date, 76 loci and 58 corresponding genes [spastic paraplegia genes (SPGs)] have been linked to HSPs. The genetic diagnosis is further complicated by the fact that causative mutations of HSP can be inherited through all possible modes of transmission (autosomal-dominant and -recessive, X-linked, maternal), with some genes showing multiple inheritance patterns. The pathogenic mutations of SPGs primarily lead to progressive degeneration of the upper motor neurons (UMNs) comprising corticospinal tracts. However, it is possible to observe lower-limb muscle atrophy and fasciculations on clinical examination that are clear signs of lower motor neuron (LMN) involvement. The purpose of this review is to classify HSPs based on their degree of motor neuron involvement, distinguishing forms in which only UMNs are affected from those involving both UMN and LMN degeneration, and to describe their differential diagnosis from diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Keywords: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Motor neuron; Motor neuron disease; Neurodegeneration; SPG; Spastic paraplegia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / genetics
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / physiopathology
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / genetics
  • Humans
  • Motor Neuron Disease / genetics
  • Motor Neuron Disease / physiopathology*
  • Mutation
  • Spastic Paraplegia, Hereditary / genetics
  • Spastic Paraplegia, Hereditary / physiopathology*


  • Heat-Shock Proteins