†These authors contributed equally.
Academic Editors: Foteini Christidi and Efstratios Karavasilis
Background: While amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is widely recognised as a multi-network disorder with extensive frontotemporal and cerebellar involvement, sensory dysfunction is relatively under evaluated. Subtle sensory deficits have been sporadically reported, but there is a prevailing notion that sensory pathways may be relatively spared in ALS. Methods: In a prospective neuroimaging study we have systematically evaluated cerebral grey and white matter structures involved in the processing, relaying and mediation of sensory information. Twenty two C9orf72 positive ALS patients (C9+ ALS), 138 C9orf72 negative ALS patients (C9- ALS) and 127 healthy controls were included. Results: Widespread cortical alterations were observed in C9+ ALS including both primary and secondary somatosensory regions. In C9- ALS, cortical thickness reductions were observed in the postcentral gyrus. Thalamic nuclei relaying somatosensory information as well as the medial and lateral geniculate nuclei exhibited volume reductions. Diffusivity indices revealed posterior thalamic radiation pathology and a trend of left medial lemniscus degeneration was also observed in C9- ALS (p = 0.054). Our radiology data confirm the degeneration of somatosensory, visual and auditory pathways in ALS, which is more marked in GGGGCC hexanucleotide repeat expansion carriers. Conclusions: In contrast to the overwhelming focus on motor system degeneration and frontotemporal dysfunction in recent research studies, our findings confirm that sensory circuits are also affected in ALS. The involvement of somatosensory, auditory and visual pathways in ALS may have important clinical ramifications which are easily overlooked in the context of unremitting motor decline. Subtle sensory deficits may exacerbate mobility, contribute to fall risk, impair dexterity, and worsen bulbar dysfunction, therefore comprehensive sensory testing should also be performed as part of the clinical assessments in ALS.