Does limited EMG denervation in early primary lateral sclerosis predict amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?

Anhar Hassan, Shivam O. Mittal, William T. Hu, Keith A. Josephs, Eric J. Sorenson, J. Eric Ahlskog

Publication Date: 02/16/2022

Objective: We assessed whether a cohort of patients with primary lateral sclerosis (PLS) and limited electromyography (EMG) motor unit denervation changes evolve into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) with prolonged follow-up. Methods: We initially ascertained all PLS patients diagnosed at Mayo Clinic-Rochester (1990–2016). Of 64 total cases, 43 had normal EMGs (“pure” PLS) during the first 4 years after symptom onset and were the focus of a prior publication, documenting absence of evolution to ALS. The remaining 21 patients had limited motor unit changes on EMG needle examination (denervation and most with fibrillation or fasciculation potentials) but insufficient to raise a strong suspicion of ALS; these 21 patients were followed to determine whether they evolved into ALS. Results: Of these 21 patients, the median follow-up was 7 years’ disease duration (range: 4–27 years; IQR 5–8.5). They included 11 females (52%) with median onset-age of 57 years (range: 42–72 years). Two patients (10%) subsequently met revised El Escorial criteria for ALS after 7 and 13 years, respectively. The remainder had stable EMG changes with a persistent PLS phenotype. Among these remaining 19 patients, the PLS course was somewhat more aggressive than our previously reported series of 43 patients devoid of EMG denervation. The paraparetic variant was more common than the hemiparetic and bulbar variants, similar to “pure” PLS. Conclusions: Among PLS patients with definite but limited EMG denervation, 2/21 (10%) later developed ALS. The patients in this series had a more progressive clinical course compared to our previously reported pure PLS cases.