Handedness linked to symptom onset – Lessons from a poster presentation

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Prof Georg Haase and Prof Peter Andersen at the poster session

This year, nearly 300 posters are being presented at the symposium – that’s three times the number of presentations being given as talks! Due to the large numbers and feedback from last year’s symposium this year we decided to split the session in two with one session on Saturday and another on Sunday.

This is the first time that the poster session has been split in two, giving delegates a longer opportunity to discuss work with the authors on a one-to-one level. It’s also often a good opportunity for young researchers to develop their presentation skills which is vital for an upcoming researcher! Hopefully given the new format, delegates will be able to share more knowledge, meet potential collaborators and come away with new information to use in their research or to ignite a new idea. The poster room was soon filled with a swarm of delegates, moving from poster to poster in search of knowledge. With over 800 delegates attending this year’s symposium, it’s no wonder that the room was humming with conversation.

One poster that was particularly interesting was that of Dr Clare Wood-Allum. The story of this work started earlier this year with an article on limb dominance (aka handedness) by Dr Martin Turner, and colleagues.

The theory for both pieces of work is that if physical exercise does increase the risk of somebody developing MND, then a person’s handedness may influence the site of onset due to the motor neurones in the handed arm being used more so than the other arm. However, due to people using both feet (generally) equally while standing etc then there would not be a relationship between footedness and side of onset.

To find out if this was true or not, Dr Turner and colleagues used to ask 343 people living with limb onset ALS to complete a questionnaire regarding their site of onset and dominant hand and foot. From their results, they identified that there was a link between the side of onset for people who had upper limb onset MND and their handedness. People with a lower limb onset did not have a relationship between their footedness and side of onset as expected.

In order for the work of Dr Turner and colleagues to be backed up, further investigative work was needed by an independent research group.

This is where Dr Wood-Allum and colleagues come in! By using case notes from 722 people with MND, they identified that in upper limb onset MND, symptoms were most likely to begin in the dominant arm. As predicted, they did not find any relationship between lower-limb onset MND and side of onset.

These two results together present a previously unrecognised feature of MND.

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