The Distinct Traits of the UNC13A Polymorphism in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Ann Neurol. 2020 Oct;88(4):796-806. doi: 10.1002/ana.25841. Epub 2020 Jul 20.


Objective: The rs12608932 single nucleotide polymorphism in UNC13A is associated with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) susceptibility, and may underlie differences in treatment response. We aimed to characterize the clinical, cognitive, behavioral, and neuroimaging phenotype of UNC13A in patients with ALS.

Methods: We included 2,216 patients with ALS without a C9orf72 mutation to identify clinical characteristics associated with the UNC13A polymorphism. A subcohort of 428 patients with ALS was used to study cognitive and behavioral profiles, and 375 patients to study neuroimaging characteristics. Associations were analyzed under an additive genetic model.

Results: Genotyping rs12608932 resulted in 854 A/A, 988 A/C, and 374 C/C genotypes. The C allele was associated with a higher age at symptom onset (median years A/A 63.5, A/C 65.6, and C/C 65.5; p < 0.001), more frequent bulbar onset (A/A 29.6%, A/C 31.8%, and C/C 43.1%; p < 0.001), higher incidences of ALS-FTD (A/A 4.3%, A/C 5.2%, and C/C 9.5%; p = 0.003), lower forced vital capacity at diagnosis (median percentage A/A 92.0, A/C 90.0, and C/C 86.5; p < 0.001), and a shorter survival (median in months A/A 33.3, A.C 30.7, and C/C 26.6; p < 0.001). UNC13A was associated with lower scores on ALS-specific cognition tests (means A/A 79.5, A/C 78.1, and C/C 76.6; p = 0.037), and more frequent behavioral disturbances (A/A 16.7%, A/C 24.4%, and C/C 27.7%; p = 0.045). Thinner left inferior temporal and right fusiform cortex were associated with the UNC13A single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP; p = 0.045 and p = 0.036).

Interpretation: Phenotypical distinctions associated with UNC13A make it an important factor to take into account in clinical trial design, studies on cognition and behavior, and prognostic counseling. ANN NEUROL 2020;88:796-806.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / complications
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / genetics*
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / pathology
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • UNC13B protein, human