Background: The criteria for assessing upper motor neuron pathology in pure lower motor neuron disease (LMND) still remain a major issue of debate with respect to the clinical classification as an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) variant.
Objective: The study was designed to investigate white matter damage by a hypothesis-guided tract-of-interest-based approach in patients with LMND compared with healthy controls and ´classical´ ALS patients in order to identify in vivo brain structural changes according to the neuropathologically defined ALS affectation pattern. Data were pooled from two previous studies at two different study sites (Ulm, Germany and Milano, Italy).
Methods: DTI-based white matter integrity mapping was performed by voxelwise statistical comparison and by a tractwise analysis of fractional anisotropy (FA) maps according to the ALS-staging pattern for 65 LMND patients (clinically differentiated in fast and slow progressors) vs. 92 matched controls and 101 ALS patients with a 'classical' phenotype to identify white matter structural alterations.
Results: The analysis of white matter structural connectivity by regional FA reductions demonstrated the characteristic alteration patterns along the CST and also in frontal and prefrontal brain areas in LMND patients compared to controls and ALS. Fast progressing LMND showed substantial involvement, like in ALS, while slow progressors showed less severe alterations. In the tract-specific analysis according to the ALS-staging pattern, fast progressing LMND showed significant alterations of ALS-related tract systems as compared to slow progressors and controls.
Conclusions: This study showed an affectation pattern for corticoefferent fibers in LMND with fast disease progression as defined for ALS, that way confirming the hypothesis that fast progressing LMND is a phenotypical variant of ALS.
Keywords: ALS; DTI; Lower motor neuron disease; MRI; PMA.