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Abstract The progressive loss of motor function characteristic of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is associated with widespread cortical pathology extending beyond primary motor regions. Increasing muscle weakness reflects a dynamic, variably compensated brain network disorder. In the quest for biomarkers to accelerate therapeutic assessment, the high temporal resolution of magnetoencephalography is uniquely able to non-invasively capture micro-magnetic fields generated by neuronal activity across the entire cortex simultaneously. This study examined task-free magnetoencephalography to characterize the cortical oscillatory signature of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis for having potential as a pharmacodynamic biomarker. Eight to ten minutes of magnetoencephalography in the task-free, eyes-open state was recorded in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (n = 36) and healthy age-matched controls (n = 51), followed by a structural MRI scan for co-registration. Extracted magnetoencephalography metrics from the delta, theta, alpha, beta, low-gamma, high-gamma frequency bands included oscillatory power (regional activity), 1/f exponent (complexity) and amplitude envelope correlation (connectivity). Groups were compared using a permutation-based general linear model with correction for multiple comparisons and confounders. To test whether the extracted metrics could predict disease severity, a random forest regression model was trained and evaluated using nested leave-one-out cross-validation. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis was characterized by reduced sensorimotor beta band and increased high-gamma band power. Within the premotor cortex, increased disability was associated with a reduced 1/f exponent. Increased disability was more widely associated with increased global connectivity in the delta, theta and high-gamma bands. Intra-hemispherically, increased disability scores were particularly associated with increases in temporal connectivity and inter-hemispherically with increases in frontal and occipital connectivity. The random forest model achieved a coefficient of determination (R2) of 0.24. The combined reduction in cortical sensorimotor beta and rise in gamma power is compatible with the established hypothesis of loss of inhibitory, GABAergic interneuronal circuits in pathogenesis. A lower 1/f exponent potentially reflects a more excitable cortex and a pathology unique to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis when considered with the findings published in other neurodegenerative disorders. Power and complexity changes corroborate with the results from paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation. Increased magnetoencephalography connectivity in worsening disability is thought to represent compensatory responses to a failing motor system. Restoration of cortical beta and gamma band power has significant potential to be tested in an experimental medicine setting. Magnetoencephalography-based measures have potential as sensitive outcome measures of therapeutic benefit in drug trials and may have a wider diagnostic value with further study, including as predictive markers in asymptomatic carriers of disease-causing genetic variants.

Original publication




Journal article


Brain Communications


Oxford University Press (OUP)

Publication Date