A systematic review of non-motor symptom evaluation in clinical trials for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Emily Beswick, Deborah Forbes, Zack Hassan, Charis Wong, Judith Newton, Alan Carson, Sharon Abrahams, Siddharthan Chandran, Suvankar Pal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is increasingly recognised as a multi-system disorder, presenting with common and impactful non-motor symptoms, such as neuropsychiatric symtpoms, cognitive and behavioural changes, pain, disordered sleep, fatigue and problematic saliva. Aim/hypothesis: We aimed to systematically review 25 years of ALS clinical trials data to identify if non-motor features were evaluated, in addition to the traditional measures of motor functioning and survival, and where evaluated to describe the instruments used to assess. We hypothesised that assessment of non-motor symptoms has been largely neglected in trial design and not evaluated with ALS-suitable instruments. Methods: We reviewed clinical trials of investigative medicinal products in ALS, since the licensing of riluzole in 1994. Trial registry databases including WHO International Trials Registry, European Clinical Trials Register, clinicaltrials.gov, and PubMed were systematically searched for Phase II, III or IV trials registered, completed or published between 01/01/1994 and 16/09/2020. No language restrictions were applied. Results: 237 clinical trials, including over 29,222 participants, were investigated for their use of non-motor outcome measures. These trials evaluated neuropsychiatric symptoms (75, 32%), cognitive impairment (16, 6.8%), behavioural change (34, 14%), pain (55, 23%), sleep disturbances (12, 5%) and fatigue (18, 8%). Problematic saliva was assessed as part of composite ALS-FRS(R) scores in 184 trials (78%) but with no focus on this as an isolated symptom. 31 (13%) trials including 3585 participants did not include any assessment of non-motor symptoms. Conclusions: Non-motor symptoms such as neuropsychiatric, cognitive and behavioural changes, pain, disordered sleep, fatigue, and problematic saliva have not been consistently evaluated in trials for people with ALS. Where evaluated, non-symptoms were primarily assessed using instruments and impairment thresholds that are not adapted for people with ALS. Future trials should include non-motor symptom assessments to evaluate the additional potential therapeutic benefit of candidate drugs. PROPSERO registration: CRD42020223648.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neurology
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Clinical trials
  • Non-motor symptoms
  • Outcome measures


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