Methodological standards, quality of reporting and regulatory compliance in animal research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: a systematic review

BMJ Open Sci. 2019 Aug 1;3(1):e000016. doi: 10.1136/bmjos-2018-000016. eCollection 2019.


Objectives: The amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research community was one of the first to adopt methodology guidelines to improve preclinical research reproducibility. We here present the results of a systematic review to investigate how the standards in this field changed over the 10-year period during which the guidelines were first published (2007) and updated (2010).

Methods: We searched for papers reporting ALS research on SOD1 (superoxide dismutase 1) mice published between 2005 and 2015 on the ISI Web of Science database, resulting in a sample of 569 papers to review, after triage. Two scores-one for methodological quality, one for regulatory compliance-were built from weighted sums of separate sets of items, and subjected to multivariable regression analysis, to assess how these related to publication year, type of study, country of origin and journal.

Results: Reporting standards improved over time. Of papers published after the first ALS guidelines were made public, fewer than 9% referred specifically to these. Of key research parameters, only three (genetic background, number of transgenes and group size) were reported in >50% of the papers. Information on housing conditions, randomisation and blinding was absent in over two-thirds of the papers. Group size was among the best reported parameters, but the majority reported using fewer than the recommended sample size and only two studies clearly justified group size.

Conclusions: General methodological standards improved gradually over a period of 8-10 years, but remained generally comparable with related fields with no specific guidelines, except with regard to severity. Only 11% of ALS studies were classified in the highest severity level (animals allowed to reach death or moribund stages), substantially below the proportion in studies of comparable neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington's. The existence of field-specific guidelines, although a welcome indication of concern, seems insufficient to ensure adherence to high methodological standards. Other mechanisms may be required to improve methodological and welfare standards.

Keywords: ALS; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; animal welfare; compliance; guidelines; methodology; quality; reporting; reproducibility.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review