Among the motor neuron diseases, three share the clinical features of prominent upper motor neuron signs--amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), primary lateral sclerosis (PLS) and the hereditary spastic paraplegias (HSP). While genetic testing can assist in the identification of several variants of the latter, in the remaining cases, including those in which spasticity may be associated with amyotrophy, clinical differentiation of the three disorders may prove difficult. In this paper we review the evidence that these are distinct disorders and conclude that, for ALS and PLS particularly, there may be justification in considering them as single points along a continuum of multisystem disorders with conspicuous motor neuron involvement. Only through the development and application of exacting clinical diagnostic criteria to epidemiological studies, along with greater numbers of post-mortem examinations, however, will these questions be answered fully.
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