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  • Clinical trials in ALS: an overview.

    24 October 2018

    Clinical trials in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) have been conducted for over half a century now and have incorporated a wide variety of drugs. Most of these trials have had negative results and a cure remains elusive. The explosion in our understanding of molecular biology and parallel developments in clinical epidemiology have opened up a vast number of novel therapeutic strategies. However, advances in statistical analysis, computing, and global communications have also put greater pressure on scientific investigators to improve the design and implementation of clinical trials so that they permit rigorous testing of hypotheses within a solid ethical framework. This article documents the first published trial for all drugs tried clinically in the treatment of ALS, focusing in more detail on the large, multicenter trials of recent years, namely those involving riluzole, ciliary neurotrophic factor, insulin-like growth factor-I, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and SR57746A. The problems in the design of trials in ALS are discussed, including the selection of end points and surrogate markers of disease progression, and the major parameters in ALS assessment are reviewed.

  • Positron emission tomography (PET)--its potential to provide surrogate markers in ALS.

    24 October 2018

    Positron emission tomography (PET) has enabled us to study the human brain with unrivalled sensitivity, and has already established its place in the research of neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease and epilepsy. PET has been used as a tool in the study of patients with motor neuron disease (MND) for well over ten years now, but its potential in diagnosis and to identify surrogate markers of disease expression (phenotype) and progression has yet to be fully realized. The early studies using 2-18fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose to measure regional changes in cerebral metabolic rate for glucose gave the first clues to the more widespread involvement of the brain in MND. Later studies exploited the development of activation studies using 15O-containing tracers, which allowed correlation with neuropsychological measures, and the refinement of mapping techniques to delineate the extra-motor areas involved in the disease process. More recently, studies involving ligands such as 11C-flumazenil have allowed the exploration of functional reorganisation in MND, and inhibitory interneuronal pathways which may be crucial in modulation of disease expression. In the future new ligands will be applied in combination with other modalities of investigation (multimodal magnetic resonance imaging; neurophysiological studies) in order to understand the pathophysiology of this heterogeneous condition. Although the potential of PET has not yet been realized in ALS, it is likely to play a part in defining new diagnostic and surrogate markers of disease extent and severity.

  • Peer recommendations on how to improve clinical research, and Conference wrap-up.

    24 October 2018

    To promote clinical and patient oriented research, as part of the Second International ALS Conference in Tarrytown, NY, USA, seven pairs of clinicians and scientists were asked to lead discussions with meeting attendees on six major topics (one of which was discussed by two groups); each one the focus of a 90-min Breakout Session. Approximately 25 meeting attendees participated in each session. The Breakout Sessions considered six major themes: 1) Approaches to encourage clinicians to engage in more clinical research to discover the pathogenesis and cause of ALS; 2) Exploring avenues to build more effective partnerships between basic scientists and ALS physicians; 3) Increasing patient interest and commitment to participating in non-trial clinical research; 4) Brainstorming about factors that are most critical to the discovery of the pathogenesis and cause of ALS; 5) Finding ways to incorporate clinical research projects into clinical trials; and 6) Developing state-of-the-art epidemiological studies to solve the mystery of ALS. In this paper, we present the reports from each of the Breakout Sessions; and we provide a wrap-up of the entire conference.

  • Mechanisms, models and biomarkers in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

    24 October 2018

    The last 30 years have seen a major advance in the understanding of the clinical and pathological heterogeneity of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and its overlap with frontotemporal dementia. Multiple, seemingly disparate biochemical pathways converge on a common clinical syndrome characterized by progressive loss of upper and lower motor neurons. Pathogenic themes in ALS include excitotoxicity, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, neuroinflammation, altered energy metabolism, and most recently RNA mis-processing. The transgenic rodent, overexpressing mutant superoxide dismutase-1, is now only one of several models of ALS pathogenesis. The nematode, fruit fly and zebrafish all offer fresh insight, and the development of induced pluripotent stem cell-derived motor neurons holds promise for the screening of candidate therapeutics. The lack of useful biomarkers in ALS contributes to diagnostic delay, and the inability to stratify patients by prognosis may be an important factor in the failure of therapeutic trials. Biomarkers sensitive to disease activity might lessen reliance on clinical measures and survival as trial endpoints and reduce study length. Emerging proteomic markers of neuronal loss and glial activity in cerebrospinal fluid, a cortical signature derived from advanced structural and functional MRI, and the development of more sensitive measurements of lower motor neuron physiology are leading a new phase of biomarker-driven therapeutic discovery.

  • Does interneuronal dysfunction contribute to neurodegeneration in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?

    24 October 2018

    Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is typically regarded as a sporadic neurodegenerative disorder that results in a catastrophic failure of the motor system, with characteristically variable involvement of upper and lower motor neuronal populations. A wide range of evidence from clinical, histological, genetic, neurophysiological, neuroimaging and neuropsychological studies, suggests that a loss of central nervous system inhibitory neuronal influence is a contributing factor in ALS pathogenesis. This loss of inhibitory function points intuitively to an 'interneuronopathy', with natural differences in cortical and spinal inhibitory networks reflected in the hitherto unexplained variable compartmentalization of pathology within upper and lower motor neuron populations. An excitotoxic final common pathway might then result from unopposed glutamatergic activity. If correct, therapies aimed specifically at supporting interneuronal function may provide a novel therapeutic strategy.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging of pathological processes in rodent models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

    24 October 2018

    Non-human models of neurodegenerative diseases have potential for the identification of key pathways in pathogenesis and for the more rapid assessment of therapeutic candidates. While there are legitimate concerns about the physiological differences between the rodent and human motor systems, mice expressing the 'G93A' superoxide dismutase-1 gene mutation are a predictable and robustly-characterized model for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This model has provided evidence for an important role of inflammatory processes during the pre-clinical phase, a stage currently inaccessible for human study in what is largely a sporadic disease. While magnetic resonance imaging is now an established and leading modality for the identification of ALS biomarkers in humans, it can also be increasingly applied to rodent models to probe structural, functional and biochemical changes throughout the course of the disease, with additional potential to generate surrogate markers for the efficacy of therapeutic interventions. Targeted MRI contrast agents, through tagging of various cell types and even individual molecules, will deliver an era of in vivo molecular neuroimaging, with greater specificity for the most relevant pathological processes. These are potentially important steps towards the ultimate goal of human therapeutic translation.

  • Trends in death certification for multiple sclerosis, motor neuron disease, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy in English populations 1979-2006.

    24 October 2018

    The objective of this study is to report trends in mortality, as certified on death certificates, from multiple sclerosis (MS), motor neuron disease (MND), primary Parkinson's disease (PD), and epilepsy, analysing not only the underlying cause of death but also all certified causes for each disease. Death records in the Oxford region, 1979-2006, and England, 1996-2006, were analysed for ascertaining the trends in mortality. The percentage of deaths coded as the underlying cause changed over time, coinciding with changes to the rules for selecting the underlying cause of death. Changes over time to coding rules had a large impact on apparent trends in death rates for PD when studied by underlying cause alone. They also had significant, though smaller, effects on trends in death rates for MS, MND and epilepsy. Nationally, in the last period of the study, underlying cause mortality identified 64% of deaths with a mention of MS, 88% of MND, 56% of PD, and 48% of epilepsy. In the longstanding Oxford data from 1979 to 2006, death rates based on all certified causes of death showed no significant change for MS; an upward trend for MND (notably in women over 75), though only in the last few years of the study; a significant but small decline for PD; and no significant change for epilepsy. When mortality statistics are analysed by underlying cause only, their value is reduced. A substantial percentage of neurological deaths are missed. Time trends may be misleading. All certified causes for each disease, as well as the underlying cause, should be analysed.