More Than Half of ALS Cases Have a Genetic Cause; Women Have Greatest Risk of Developing the Disease, Irish Study Suggests

More Than Half of ALS Cases Have a Genetic Cause; Women Have Greatest Risk of Developing the Disease, Irish Study Suggests

More than 50% of the cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) disease are linked with a genetic cause, and first-degree relatives of an ALS member — especially daughters of ALS mothers — show the highest risk to inherit it, according to an Irish population-based study.

The study “Lifetime Risk and Heritability of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis” was published in the journal JAMA Neurology.

Familial ALS is linked with more than 30 genetic mutations in four genes — superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1), the TAR DNA Binding Protein-43 (TARDBP), Fused in Sarcoma (FUS) , and Chromosome 9 Open Reading Frame 72 (C9ORF72) — accounting for 55% of the familial cases of ALS in Europe.

Despite being a disease with known complex origin, disease heritability is still unclear. Heritability refers to the “proportion of variance in the risk of developing a condition that is explained by genetic factors,” the researchers wrote.

Researchers set out to determine the extent of ALS heritability and how sex affects disease transmission. The team explored parent-offspring disease incidence using the Irish ALS Register. The database includes diagnosed ALS patients in Ireland who have been followed for more than 25 years.

In total, the Irish ALS Register includes 2,128 ALS patients, registered from January 1995 to December 2017. Researchers focused their analysis on the period from Jan. 1, 2008 to Dec. 31, 2017, and included 1,117 of the 1,123 registered cases of ALS. Of these, 32 had parents with ALS. Twenty-three patients underwent testing for mutations in the C9orf72 gene, and 14 tested positive.

The analysis revealed that the offspring of ALS parents develop the disease earlier — mean age 52 years compared to their parents, who developed ALS at an average of 69.6 years. Moreover, the risk of developing ALS was higher in first-degree relatives of individuals with ALS (1.4%) compared to the general population (0.3%).

Moreover, researchers observed that 52.3% of the ALS cases had a genetic basis, compared to 36.9% of those with no known genetic risk.

They noted that the risk of ALS was higher among women whose mothers had ALS, estimated at 66.2%, and lowest for women whose fathers were affected (34.3%). Among the C9orf72-negative patients, the highest risk of developing ALS also was for mother-daughter pairs, at 48.5%.

Overall, the study showed that 50% of ALS cases had a genetic influence, but in the absence of known genetic mutations in parents, their offspring “remain at increased risk of developing ALS compared with the general population,” the researchers wrote.

The higher risk found among mothers and daughters suggests a sex influence on ALS genetics.

Patricia holds a Ph.D. in Cell Biology from University Nova de Lisboa, and has served as an author on several research projects and fellowships, as well as major grant applications for European Agencies. She has also served as a PhD student research assistant at the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, Columbia University, New York.
×
Patricia holds a Ph.D. in Cell Biology from University Nova de Lisboa, and has served as an author on several research projects and fellowships, as well as major grant applications for European Agencies. She has also served as a PhD student research assistant at the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, Columbia University, New York.
Latest Posts
  • genetic cause
  • RPS25 gene
  • gut microbiome
  • arimoclomol 

3 comments

  1. This report is incorrect and its title is absolutely false.
    Specifically “More Than Half of ALS Cases Have a Genetic Cause” is absolutely not what is in the scientific article.
    What the scientific article tells is that it is 1.4%!

    Citation:
    “Lifetime risk of developing ALS in first-degree relatives of individuals with ALS was increased compared with the general population (1.4% [32 of 2234] vs 0.3% [2.6 of 1000]; P < .001)."
    " 1 in 347 men and 1 in 436 women."
    The authors add this which is very important:
    "Moreover, while the current probable lifetime risk describes the current risk of developing ALS for individuals of a certain age, it does not directly reflect the risk of either patients or parents at the time of their birth, nor is it associated with future risk"

    So the risk for a parent with ALS having a child with ALS is 1.4%, not 50% as in the title!

    From where do come the 50% ratio?
    It is about a complicated concept: Heritability, which reflects the proportion of the variation in the risk of developing disease that is attributable to genetic factors.
    In the study it is 52%.
    It is telling something like this: If one of a twin has a familial ALS, then the other twin as 52% of getting it.
    If the twin has a sporadic ALS, then the other twin has 36% risk of having the same disease.

    As things posted on Internet have a tendency to stick and as this report is obviously wrong, please, do not remove it, but publish a correction.

    • Todd says:

      Stating that “more than half the cases of ALS have a genetic cause” does NOT mean the risk of offspring of a patient with ALS is greater than 50%.
      For example in Huntington’s disease – almost 100% of cases are attributable to a known genetic cause – but the risk to offspring is close to 50% (autosomal dominant and accounting for penetrance difference).
      The >50% traceability to a genetic cause and a 1.4% offspring risk are apples and oranges. Totally different values and meaning.

  2. Alejandro Ruelas says:

    Can we please simplify? I agree that the title of this piece is definitely misleading. Here’s my understanding:

    5-10% of ALS cases are familial and thus potentially passed on to offspring because they’re genetically related. Perhaps this article is speaking exclusively about this group??

    The rest–sporadic ALS–has no confirmed known cause. Further, it’s mainly a male disease, and when females develop it, statistically speaking it’s usually women in post-menopausal stage.

    Can any medical professional reading this please confirm or correct my statements? Thank you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *