Primary lateral sclerosis (PLS) bears close resemblance to cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) presenting with spasticity, but histopathological studies have shown significant difference between the two conditions. When the lower motor neurons in cases of ALS and PLS are compared with the equivalent cells of control subjects, morphometric studies indicate significantly decreased size and increased convexity (rounding) of the cell bodies only in ALS. In both disorders there is loss or shrinkage of the largest cortical motor neurons (Betz cells) in the primary motor cortex, though this change is not conspicuous in all cases of ALS. Morphometry reveals in both diseases a general reduction in the sizes of pyramidal cells in the precentral gyrus, indicating that smaller neurons are involved. The cortical motor neurons shrink more in PLS than in ALS. It is concluded that there is clear difference between ALS and PLS. In PLS, quantitative histopathological data show that the neuronal degeneration is confined to long descending pathways, notably the corticospinal system, with no concomitant involvement of lower motor neurons. In ALS, lower motor neuron degeneration occurs in all cases, whereas involvement of the motor cortex is variable.