Motor cortical function determines prognosis in sporadic ALS

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To study the relationship between cortical function and survival in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).


A total of 216 referrals were screened, and participants with familial ALS or an inexcitable cortex were excluded. Clinical measures and phenotyping from 169 patients with sporadic ALS were combined with an assessment of cortical function using threshold tracking transcranial magnetic stimulation with indices including short interval intracortical inhibition (SICI). Peripheral nerve studies were collected, incorporating compound muscle action potential amplitude. Clinical prognostic factors were recorded longitudinally, including ALS Functional Rating Scale–Revised (ALSFRS-R).


Compared to 109 healthy controls, 169 patients had reduced SICI (p < 0.0001). In survival analysis, 105 patients progressed to death with an estimated median survival time of 37 months. In patients with less than 2 years disease duration (n = 140), those with bulbar onset (p = 0.017), rapid vital capacity (VC) decline (p < 0.0001), rapid ALSFRS-R decline (p < 0.0001), and reduced averaged SICI (p = 0.047) had a poorer prognosis. Multivariate analysis identified rapid VC decline (p < 0.0001), rapid ALSFRS-R decline (p = 0.0060), and reduced averaged SICI (p = 0.011) as factors independently associated with a shorter survival.


Cortical dysfunction appears to be a prognostic marker in patients with ALS within 2 years of disease onset, such that patients with reduced averaged SICI, indicative of intracortical hyperexcitability, demonstrated a worse prognosis.

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