Natural History of "Pure" Primary Lateral Sclerosis

Objective

To assess whether primary lateral sclerosis (PLS), classified as pure when the EMG is normal, converts to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) after longitudinal follow-up.

Methods

Retrospective chart review was performed of patients with pure PLS at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN (1990–2016). Inclusion criteria required a normal EMG during the first 4 years of symptoms.

Results

Forty-three patients had pure PLS (25 female, 58%) with a median onset age of 50 years (range 38–78 years) and median follow-up at 9 years’ disease duration (range 4–36 years). The ascending paraparesis phenotype (n = 30, 70%) was most common, followed by hemiparetic onset (n = 9, 21%) and bulbar onset (n = 4, 9%). Among the 30 paraparetic-onset cases, bladder symptoms (n = 18, 60%) and dysarthria (n = 15, 50%) were more common than pseudobulbar affect (n = 9, 30%) and dysphagia (n = 8, 27%). By the last follow-up, 17 of 30 (56%) used a cane and 6 (20%) required a wheelchair. The paraparetic variant, compared with hemiparetic and bulbar onset, had the youngest onset (48 vs 56 vs 60 years, respectively; p = 0.02). Five patients died; 1 patient required a feeding tube; and none required permanent noninvasive ventilation. Two patients developed an idiopathic multisystem neurodegenerative disorder, which surfaced after 19 and 20 years. Two patients developed minor EMG abnormalities. The remainder 39 had persistently normal EMGs.

Conclusions

Pure PLS did not convert to ALS after a median of 9 years’ disease duration follow-up in our study population. The ascending paraparetic phenotype was most common, with earlier onset and frequent bladder involvement. After years of pure PLS, <5% develop a more pervasive neurodegenerative disorder.

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