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The evolving role of surface electromyography in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: a systematic review

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Accepted/In press14 Dec 2019


King's Authors


Objective: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is an adult-onset neurodegenerative disease that leads to inexorable motor decline and a median survival of three years from symptom onset. Surface EMG represents a major technological advance that has been harnessed in the development of novel neurophysiological biomarkers. We have systematically reviewed the current application of surface EMG techniques in ALS.

Methods: We searched PubMed to identify 42 studies focusing on surface EMG and its associated analytical methods in the diagnosis, prognosis and monitoring of ALS patients.

Results: A wide variety of analytical techniques were identified, involving motor unit decomposition from high-density grids, motor unit number estimation and measurements of neuronal hyperexcitability or neuromuscular architecture. Some studies have proposed specific diagnostic and prognostic criteria however clinical calibration on large ALS cohorts is currently lacking. The most validated method to monitor disease is the motor unit number index (MUNIX), which has been implemented as an outcome measure in two ALS clinical trials.

Conclusion: Surface EMG offers significant practical and analytical flexibility compared to invasive techniques. To capitalise on this fully, emphasis must be placed upon the multi-disciplinary collaboration of clinicians, bioengineers, mathematicians and biostatisticians.

Significance: Surface EMG techniques can enrich effective biomarker development in ALS.

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