ALS syndrome in patients with HIV-1 infection

Ashok Verma, Joseph R. Berger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Background: A viral etiology of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has been proposed because of the selective vulnerability of motor neurons to certain viruses. During the last 20 years, at least 19 cases of ALS or ALS-like disease have been reported in HIV-1 (HIV) seropositive individuals. Objective: To describe two cases of clinically definite ALS in patients with HIV infection and to review the previously reported cases of HIV-associated ALS syndrome. Setting: A multidisciplinary ALS center and Neuro-AIDS clinic at a tertiary care university hospital. Patients/Design: We investigated and prospectively monitored two patients who had developed clinically definite ALS by El Escorial criteria several years after acquiring the HIV infection. The previously reported cases of ALS or ALS-like disease in patients with HIV infection were reviewed for comparison and contrast with the characteristics of sporadic ALS. Results: The clinical course of ALS in our two HIV seropositive individuals mirrored that of classical sporadic ALS. A review of previously described 19 patients with ALS syndrome revealed clinically definite ALS in 4 cases and clinically probable or possible ALS in 15. ALS commenced at different stages of the HIV disease; in 7 patients, HIV infection was discovered contemporaneously with diagnosis of ALS. CD4+ T cell count ranged from 2 to 560 cells/mm3. Three (1 definite ALS) of the fatal cases were studied at autopsy and all exhibited pathology outside the motor neuron pool. Unlike our patients, 7 of 8 patients with HIV-associated ALS syndrome receiving HAART demonstrated at least partial recovery of their motor deficit. Conclusions: ALS-like syndrome can occur in association with HIV infection; however, the causal relationship remains uncertain. Patients with ALS syndrome related to HIV infection are generally younger in age and often demonstrate pathology outside the motor neuron system. Patients with HIV-associated ALS syndrome may improve following antiretroviral therapy. An aggressive HAART regimen to reduce viral load should be pursued in all such cases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-64
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the Neurological Sciences
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2006


  • ALS
  • Antiretroviral
  • El Escorial
  • HIV

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Surgery
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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