Background Upregulation of persistent Na+ conductances has been linked to axonal degeneration in sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and has also been reported in the transgenic superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD-1) mouse model. The mechanisms of ectopic activity (fasciculations and cramp) and axonal degeneration still require clarification in familial ALS (FALS) in humans, and specifically whether there are any differences to the processes identified in sporadic patients. Consequently, novel threshold tracking techniques were used to assess whether upregulation of persistent Na+ conductances was a feature linked to axonal degeneration in FALS.
Methods Axonal excitability studies were undertaken in six FALS patients, 13 asymptomatic SOD-1 mutation carriers and 45 sporadic ALS (SALS) patients.
Results Compound muscle action potential amplitude was significantly reduced in FALS (6.3±1.3 mV) and SALS (6.0±0.4 mV) compared with controls (10.0±0.4 mV, p<0.05). The mean strength duration time constant (τSD) was significantly increased in FALS (0.55±0.10 ms, p<0.05) and SALS (0.52±0.02 ms, p<0.01) compared with controls (0.41±0.02). There were no differences in τSD between asymptomatic SOD-1 mutation carriers and controls. The increase in τSD correlated with the CMAP amplitude (r=−0.4) and neurophysiological index (r=−0.4). In separate studies that assessed cortical processes, short interval intracortical inhibition (SICI) was significantly reduced (FALS, −2.7±1.3%; controls 13.7±1.3%, p<0.0001) and intracortical facilitation increased (FALS, −5.0±2.2%; controls −0.4±1.1%, p<0.05) in FALS. The reduction in SICI correlated with τSD (r=−0.8).
Conclusions Taken together, these studies suggest that persistent Na+ conductances are upregulated in FALS and that this upregulation is intrinsically associated with axonal degeneration.
- Familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- persistent Na+ conductances
- strength–duration time constant
- motor neuron disease
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Funding SV was awarded the Grant-in-Aid by Motor Neuron Disease Research Institute of Australia (MNDRIA), with funding provided by the Motor Neuron Disease Association of NSW. Funding is gratefully acknowledged from Brain Foundation and National Health Medical Research Council Australia (Project no 510233).
Competing interests None.
Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by the South East Sydney Area Health Service Human Research Ethics Committee.
Patient consent Not obtained.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.