An Italian collaborative group on motor neuron disorders, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and its variants, has been recently created, combining various academic groups and laboratories involved in basic and clinical research. The aim is to exploit all the specific expertise and combine efforts at a national level to better understand and fight these fatal diseases. This review summarizes the achievements of the different groups and outlines prospects for future research. Basic research deals with the etiopathogenesis of motor neuron diseases. In vitro and in vivo models of superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) mutations are used to investigate the mechanisms of motor neuron death associated with this gene defect. The role of excitotoxicity, immune response, intracellular aggregates and mitochondrial alterations is studied with an integrated approach, at the molecular and cellular levels. Transgenic mice carrying the human mutated SOD1, and the wobbler mouse, a spontaneous model for motor neuron degeneration, offer unique opportunities for testing new therapies in vivo related or not to SOD1 mutations. Clinical research has focused mostly on the incidence and determinants of ALS in several areas of Italy. The incidence of the disease is now among the highest according to the results of population-based regional registries. Compared to earlier studies, more recent Italian investigations show an increase in the incidence and mortality related to ALS. Findings on the role of environmental risk factors are inconsistent. Methodological issues have also been raised by Italian groups regarding the diagnosis and treatment. The validity of the El Escorial diagnostic classification has been questioned where investigators and carers have not received formal training. Pitfalls and methodological drawbacks of randomized clinical trials have been highlighted based on the results of collaborative trials by Italian investigators. Information is now available on non-pharmacological treatments and palliative care, and the economic aspects and quality of life of ALS patients are being investigated.
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Motor neuron disease
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology