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  • Lithium in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (LiCALS): a phase 3 multicentre, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

    24 October 2018

    BACKGROUND: Lithium has neuroprotective effects in cell and animal models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and a small pilot study in patients with ALS showed a significant effect of lithium on survival. We aimed to assess whether lithium improves survival in patients with ALS. METHODS: The lithium carbonate in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (LiCALS) trial is a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral lithium taken daily for 18 months in patients with ALS. Patients aged at least 18 years who had ALS according to the revised El Escorial criteria, had disease duration between 6 and 36 months, and were taking riluzole were recruited from ten centres in the UK. Patients were randomly assigned (1:1) to receive either lithium or matched placebo tablets. Randomisation was via an online system done at the level of the individual by block randomisation with randomly varying block sizes, stratified by study centre and site of disease onset (limb or bulbar). All patients and assessing study personnel were masked to treatment assignment. The primary endpoint was the rate of survival at 18 months and was analysed by intention to treat. This study is registered with Eudract, number 2008-006891-31. FINDINGS: Between May 26, 2009, and Nov 10, 2011, 243 patients were screened, 214 of whom were randomly assigned to receive lithium (107 patients) or placebo (107 patients). Two patients discontinued treatment and one died before the target therapeutic lithium concentration could be achieved. 63 (59%) of 107 patients in the placebo group and 54 (50%) of 107 patients in the lithium group were alive at 18 months. The survival functions did not differ significantly between groups (Mantel-Cox log-rank χ(2) on 1 df=1·64; p=0·20). After adjusting for study centre and site of onset using logistic regression, the relative odds of survival at 18 months (lithium vs placebo) was 0·71 (95% CI 0·40-1·24). 56 patients in the placebo group and 61 in the lithium group had at least one serious adverse event. INTERPRETATION: We found no evidence of benefit of lithium on survival in patients with ALS, but nor were there safety concerns, which had been identified in previous studies with less conventional designs. This finding emphasises the importance of pursuing adequately powered trials with clear endpoints when testing new treatments. FUNDING: The Motor Neurone Disease Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

  • Cardiovascular fitness as a risk factor for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: Indirect evidence from record linkage study

    24 October 2018

    Background: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) appears to be a sporadic disorder in 95% of cases. Although few personal characteristics associated with developing ALS are known, identification of those at risk is essential to any vision of early intervention. There is persistent anecdotal observation that those with ALS are premorbidly physically 'fitter', although such observations are susceptible to bias. Hospital admission for coronary heart disease (CHD) might serve as an objective marker of reduced cardiovascular fitness. Methods: A record linkage study of two large databases of hospital admissions, the Oxford Record Linkage Study (ORLS) and an English national record linkage dataset of Hospital Episode Statistics was undertaken. The ratio of the rate of ALS in people without a record of CHD to that in those with a record of CHD was calculated, factoring out premature death in both cohorts. Similar analysis for Parkinson's disease (PD) and multiple sclerosis (MS) was undertaken. Results: In the English population, the rate ratio for ALS in the non-CHD cohort, compared with the CHD cohort, was 1.14 (95% CI 1.05 to 1.22); for PD it was 0.95 (95% CI 0.93 to 0.98); and for MS 0.95 (95% CI 0.88 to 1.04). The ORLS data yielded similar findings. Conclusions: Those without a record of CHD were at modestly higher risk of ALS, but not for PD or MS. This lends support to the assertion that ALS arises within a population who may have relatively higher levels of cardiovascular fitness.

  • Cardiovascular fitness as a risk factor for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: indirect evidence from record linkage study.

    24 October 2018

    BACKGROUND: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) appears to be a sporadic disorder in 95% of cases. Although few personal characteristics associated with developing ALS are known, identification of those at risk is essential to any vision of early intervention. There is persistent anecdotal observation that those with ALS are premorbidly physically 'fitter', although such observations are susceptible to bias. Hospital admission for coronary heart disease (CHD) might serve as an objective marker of reduced cardiovascular fitness. METHODS: A record linkage study of two large databases of hospital admissions, the Oxford Record Linkage Study (ORLS) and an English national record linkage dataset of Hospital Episode Statistics was undertaken. The ratio of the rate of ALS in people without a record of CHD to that in those with a record of CHD was calculated, factoring out premature death in both cohorts. Similar analysis for Parkinson's disease (PD) and multiple sclerosis (MS) was undertaken. RESULTS: In the English population, the rate ratio for ALS in the non-CHD cohort, compared with the CHD cohort, was 1.14 (95% CI 1.05 to 1.22); for PD it was 0.95 (95% CI 0.93 to 0.98); and for MS 0.95 (95% CI 0.88 to 1.04). The ORLS data yielded similar findings. CONCLUSIONS: Those without a record of CHD were at modestly higher risk of ALS, but not for PD or MS. This lends support to the assertion that ALS arises within a population who may have relatively higher levels of cardiovascular fitness.

  • EFNS guidelines on the use of neuroimaging in the management of motor neuron diseases.

    24 October 2018

    BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: These European Federation of Neurological Societies guidelines on neuroimaging of motor neuron diseases (MNDs) are designed to provide practical help for the neurologists to make appropriate use of neuroimaging techniques in patients with MNDs, which ranges from diagnostic and monitoring aspects to the in vivo study of the pathobiology of such conditions. METHODS: Literature searches were performed before expert members of the Task Force wrote proposal. Then, consensus was reached by circulating drafts of the manuscript to the Task Force members and by discussion of the classification of evidence and recommendations. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: The use of conventional MRI in patients suspected of having a MND is yet restricted to exclude other causes of signs and symptoms of MN pathology [class IV, level good clinical practice point (GCPP)]. Although the detection of corticospinal tract hyperintensities on conventional MRI and a T2-hypointense rim in the pre-central gyrus can support a pre-existing suspicion of MND, the specific search of these abnormalities for the purpose of making a firm diagnosis of MND is not recommended (class IV, level GCPP). At present, advanced neuroimaging techniques, including diffusion tensor imaging and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging, do not have a role in the diagnosis or routine monitoring of MNDs yet (class IV, level GCPP). However, it is strongly advisable to incorporate measures derived from these techniques into new clinical trials as exploratory outcomes to gain additional insights into disease pathophysiology and into the value of these techniques in the (longitudinal) assessment of MNDs (class IV, level GCPP).

  • [11C]-WAY100635 PET demonstrates marked 5-HT1A receptor changes in sporadic ALS.

    24 October 2018

    The pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) remains obscure, but it is now clear that neuronal loss is not confined to the motor cortex, even in cases without dementia. A reliable method of assessing cortical involvement in vivo remains elusive. WAY100635 binds selectively to the 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT1A) receptor, which is expressed on pyramidal neurones present throughout the cortex. [11C]-WAY100635 PET is, therefore, a potential marker of cerebral neuronal loss or dysfunction in ALS. Twenty-one ALS subjects and 19 healthy volunteers underwent [11C]-WAY100635 PET of the brain. A cortical template consisting of multiple volumes of interest (VOI) was applied to each individual's [11C]-WAY100635 binding potential (BP) image to determine the regional reduction in binding in ALS patients compared to controls. There was a marked reduction (21%) in both the global cortical and raphe BP of [11C]-WAY100635 in ALS patients (P < 0.001), with regional variations in the VOI analysis that ranged from 16% to 29% decrease compared with the control group, and trends to greater reductions in those with bulbar involvement. To clarify the significance of the global cortical reductions, statistical parametric mapping was used as an alternative method to identify the cortical regions with the most significant decreases in [11C]-WAY100635 binding. SPM analysis revealed the greatest differences between ALS cases and controls in frontotemporal regions, cingulate and lateral precentral gyri. The reductions in cortical [11C]-WAY100635 binding were not related to depression, riluzole or other drug use. We postulate that the reduction of 5-HT1A binding represents loss of, or damage to, neurones bearing these receptors although we cannot exclude the possibility that these reductions reflect alterations in receptor expression or function. Further investigation into the role of the 5-HT1A receptor and the potential of [11C]-WAY100635 PET as a marker of cortical dysfunction in ALS is warranted.

  • Evidence of widespread cerebral microglial activation in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: an [11C](R)-PK11195 positron emission tomography study.

    24 October 2018

    Microglial activation is implicated in the pathogenesis of ALS and can be detected in animal models of the disease that demonstrate increased survival when treated with anti-inflammatory drugs. PK11195 is a ligand for the "peripheral benzodiazepine binding site" expressed by activated microglia. Ten ALS patients and 14 healthy controls underwent [(11)C](R)-PK11195 PET of the brain. Volumes of interest were defined to obtain [(11)C](R)-PK11195 regional binding potential values for motor and "extra-motor" regions. Significantly increased binding was found in motor cortex (P = 0.003), pons (P = 0.004), dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (P = 0.010) and thalamus (P = 0.005) in the ALS patients, with significant correlation between binding in the motor cortex and the burden of upper motor neuron signs clinically (r = 0.73, P = 0.009). These findings indicate that cerebral microglial activation can be detected in vivo during the evolution of ALS, and support the previous observations that cerebral pathology is widespread. They also argue for the development of therapeutic strategies aimed at inflammatory pathways.

  • Controversies and priorities in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

    24 October 2018

    Two decades after the discovery that 20% of familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) cases were linked to mutations in the superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD1) gene, a substantial proportion of the remainder of cases of familial ALS have now been traced to an expansion of the intronic hexanucleotide repeat sequence in C9orf72. This breakthrough provides an opportunity to re-evaluate longstanding concepts regarding the cause and natural history of ALS, coming soon after the pathological unification of ALS with frontotemporal dementia through a shared pathological signature of cytoplasmic inclusions of the ubiquitinated protein TDP-43. However, with profound clinical, prognostic, neuropathological, and now genetic heterogeneity, the concept of ALS as one disease appears increasingly untenable. This background calls for the development of a more sophisticated taxonomy, and an appreciation of ALS as the breakdown of a wider network rather than a discrete vulnerable population of specialised motor neurons. Identification of C9orf72 repeat expansions in patients without a family history of ALS challenges the traditional division between familial and sporadic disease. By contrast, the 90% of apparently sporadic cases and incomplete penetrance of several genes linked to familial cases suggest that at least some forms of ALS arise from the interplay of multiple genes, poorly understood developmental, environmental, and age-related factors, as well as stochastic events.