What do we know about the variability in survival of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?
McCombe PA., Garton FC., Katz M., Wray NR., Henderson RD.
INTRODUCTION: ALS is a fatal neurodegenerative disease. However, patients show variability in the length of survival after symptom onset. Understanding the mechanisms of long survival could lead to possible avenues for therapy. AREAS COVERED: This review surveys the reported length of survival in ALS, the clinical features that predict survival in individual patients, and possible factors, particularly genetic factors, that could cause short or long survival. The authors also speculate on possible mechanisms. EXPERT OPINION: a small number of known factors can explain some variability in ALS survival. However, other disease-modifying factors likely exist. Factors that alter motor neurone vulnerability and immune, metabolic, and muscle function could affect survival by modulating the disease process. Knowing these factors could lead to interventions to change the course of the disease. The authors suggest a broad approach is needed to quantify the proportion of variation survival attributable to genetic and non-genetic factors and to identify and estimate the effect size of specific factors. Studies of this nature could not only identify novel avenues for therapeutic research but also play an important role in clinical trial design and personalized medicine.