Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig disease or Charcot disease, is the most common form of motor neurone disease 1,4 resulting in progressive weakness and eventual death due to respiratory insufficiency.

ALS typically is diagnosed in middle age. There is a recognised male predilection 1.

Both upper and lower motor neurones are affected, with decreased motor strength and wasting of the muscles of the face, limbs, and diaphragm. There is a progressive loss of motor strength, with preservation of intellectual and sensory function.

El Escorial criteria for the diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 7:

  • it requires the presence of
    • signs of lower motor neurone (LMN) degeneration by clinical, electrophysiological or neuropathologic examination
    • signs of upper motor neurone (UMN) degeneration by clinical examination
    • progressive spread of signs within a region or to other regions
  • together with the absence of
    • electrophysiological evidence of other disease processes that might explain the signs of LMN and/or UMN degenerations
    • neuroimaging evidence of other disease processes that might explain the observed clinical and electrophysiological signs

ALS is a relentlessly progressive neurological disorder characterised by the death of upper motor neurones (Betz cells in the cortex) and anterior horn cells with secondary Wallerian degeneration 2.

The majority of cases are sporadic and thus less well understood. In the familial form of ALS several genes mutations have been identified (e.g. SOD1, TDP-43, FUS and the hexanucleotide repeat expansion in C9ORF72) 5.

The earliest MR manifestation is hyperintensity on T2WI in the corticospinal tracts, seen earliest in the internal capsule, as the fibres are most concentrated here. Eventually, the entire tract from motor strip to the spinal cord is affected by increased T2 signal and volume loss 3.

Iron deposition in the cortex is demonstrated as loss of signal, most evident on T2* weighted sequences. It is seen on T2WI in ~50%.

It is important to note that both of these features are present in varying degrees in normal control patients, and as such an appreciation of what is too much is essential if MRI is to be of benefit.

  • T2: hyperintensity in the corticospinal tracts (specificity <70% and sensitivity <40%) 6
  • MR spectroscopy 2
    • decreased NAA
    • decreased glutamate
    • increased choline
    • increased myo-inositol

ALS typically progresses to death in 2-6 years, usually from respiratory complications 5.

Neurodegenerative diseases

Neurodegenerative diseases are legion and their classification just as protean. A useful approach is to divide them according to underlying pathological process, although even using this schema, there is much overlap and thus resulting confusion.

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Article information

rID: 4720
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • ALS
  • Lou Gehrig disease
  • Charcot disease

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