Sixty-two patients with motor neuron disease (MND), encompassing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), progressive bulbar palsy (PBP) and progressive muscular atrophy (PMA), were selected from within a defined area (Cantabria) in northern Spain, from 1974 to 1985. The annual incidence of MND was 1.01 per 100,000 inhabitants and the prevalence rate was 3.52 per 100,000. The male to female ratio was 1.78:1. Age-specific incidence rates increased with advanced age, with a maximum between 60 and 69 years for males and over 70 years for females. The median age at onset was 60.5 years. The average interval between the onset symptoms and diagnosis was 11 months. Fifty-three per cent of the patients had conventional or pseudopolyneuritic ALS, 36% had PBP and 11% had PMA. There were three familial cases. Two PMA patients had had acute poliomyelitis. The mean duration of the disease was 26.6 months and was significantly longer in males aged under 60 years. The survival rates in 50 patients with adequate follow-up were 18% after 5 years from onset and 6% after 10 years.