Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that is characterized by a high heterogeneity in patients’ disease course. Patients with bulbar onset of symptoms (b-ALS) have a poorer prognosis than patients with limb onset (l-ALS). However, neuroimaging correlates of the assumed biological difference between b-ALS and l-ALS may have been obfuscated by patients’ diversity in the disease course. We conducted Voxel-Based-Morphometry (VBM) and Tract-Based-Spatial-Statistics (TBSS) in a group of 76 ALS patients without clinically relevant cognitive deficits. The subgroups of 26 b-ALS and 52 l-ALS patients did not differ in terms of disease Phase or disease aggressiveness according to the D50 progression model. VBM analyses showed widespread ALS-related changes in grey and white matter, that were more pronounced for b-ALS. TBSS analyses revealed that b-ALS was predominantly characterized by frontal fractional anisotropy decreases. This demonstrates a higher degree of neurodegenerative burden for the group of b-ALS patients in comparison to l-ALS. Correspondingly, higher bulbar symptom burden was associated with right-temporal and inferior-frontal grey matter density decreases as well as fractional anisotropy decreases in inter-hemispheric and long association tracts. Contrasts between patients in Phase I and Phase II further revealed that b-ALS was characterized by an early cortical pathology and showed a spread only outside primary motor regions to frontal and temporal areas. In contrast, l-ALS showed ongoing structural integrity loss within primary motor-regions until Phase II. We therefore provide a strong rationale to treat both onset types of disease separately in ALS studies.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)
- Centers: Center for Neuromuscular Diseases