Stereological and electrophysiological evaluation of autonomic involvement in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Rustem Ozturk*, Pall Karlsson, Xiaoli Hu, Esra Akdeniz, Selcuk Surucu, Baris Isak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Objective: Previous studies have identified autonomic dysfunction in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) using mostly neurophysiological techniques. In this study, stereological evaluation of autonomic fibers and sweat glands has been performed to identify structural evidence of autonomic denervation in patients with ALS. Methods: In this study, 29 ALS patients were compared to 29 controls using COMPASS-31 questionnaire, sympathetic skin response (SSR), and heart rate variability (HRV) at rest. From the same cohorts, 20 ALS patients and 15 controls were further evaluated using staining of autonomic nerve fibers and sweat glands in skin biopsies. SSR and resting HRV were repeated in the ALS patient cohort one year later. Results: COMPASS-31 total score, gastrointestinal- and urinary-sub scores were higher in ALS patients than controls (P = 0.004, P = 0.005, and P = 0.049, respectively). In the ALS patient cohort, SSR amplitudes in hands and feet were lower than in controls (P<0.0001 and P = 0.0009, respectively), but there was no difference in resting HRV (P>0.05). While there was no change in nerve fibers innervating sweat glands, their density was lower in ALS patients than controls, and semi-quantitative analysis also showed structural damage (P = 0.02 and P = 0.001, respectively). SSR and resting HRV of ALS patients remained stable during the one-year follow-up period (P>0.05). Discussion: Supporting abnormal neurophysiological tests, stereological analysis revealed direct evidence of autonomic denervation in ALS patients. However, the degenerative process in autonomic nerve fibers is relatively slow, compared to the rate of motor neuron degeneration in this condition.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNeurophysiologie Clinique
Pages (from-to)446-458
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Heart rate variability
  • Motor neuron
  • Skin biopsy
  • Sympathetic skin response


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