Motor-evoked potentials in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: potential implications in detecting subclinical UMN involvement in lower motor neuron phenotype.

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In amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the involvement of lower motor neuron is well defined by electromyography, whereas a reliable marker of upper motor neuron (UMN) damage still lacks. Aim of the study was to estimate the role of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)-induced motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) as marker of subclinical UMN involvement.Clinical evidence of UMN damage was prospectively compared to MEPs in 176 ALS patients diagnosed between 2011 and 2014, and classified according to existing diagnostic criteria. Finally, we evaluated the appearance of clinical UMN signs and the level of diagnostic certainty in ALS after 1 year of follow-up.At presentation, abnormal MEPs were found in 80% of patients with clinical evidence of UMN damage and in 72% of patients without clinical involvement of UMN. Among these latter, 61% showed appearance of UMN clinical signs after 1 year. Approximately 70% of patients with clinical lower motor neuron (LMN) phenotype showed MEP abnormalities, while they were considered not classifiable ALS according to Airlie house or Awaji criteria. Furthermore, abnormal MEPs in absence of clinical UMN signs at baseline were found in 80% of spinal ALS that after 1-year developed UMN signs at limbs, compared to 50% of bulbar ALS.TMS is a reliable marker of subclinical UMN damage particularly among LMN phenotype and ensure an early ALS diagnosis in ~ 70% of such cases.

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