The unfolded protein response in amyotrophic later sclerosis: results of a phase 2 trial

Eleonora Dalla Bella, Enrica Bersano, Giovanni Antonini, Giuseppe Borghero, Margherita Capasso, Claudia Caponnetto, Adriano Chiò, Massimo Corbo, Massimiliano Filosto, Fabio Giannini, Rossella Spataro, Christian Lunetta, Jessica Mandrioli, Sonia Messina, Maria Rosaria Monsurrò, Gabriele Mora, Nilo Riva, Romana Rizzi, Gabriele Siciliano, Vincenzo SilaniIsabella Simone, Gianni Sorarù, Valeria Tugnoli, Lorenzo Verriello, Paolo Volanti, Roberto Furlan, John M Nolan, Emmanuelle Abgueguen, Irene Tramacere, Giuseppe Lauria

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Strong evidence suggests that endoplasmic reticulum stress plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) through altered regulation of proteostasis. Robust preclinical findings demonstrated that guanabenz selectively inhibits endoplasmic reticulum stress-induced eIF2α-phosphatase, allowing misfolded protein clearance, reduces neuronal death and prolongs survival in in vitro and in vivo models. However, its safety and efficacy in patients with ALS are unknown. To address these issues, we conducted a multicentre, randomized, double-blind trial with a futility design. Patients with ALS who had displayed an onset of symptoms within the previous 18 months were randomly assigned in a 1:1:1:1 ratio to receive 64 mg, 32 mg or 16 mg of guanabenz or placebo daily for 6 months as an add-on therapy to riluzole. The purpose of the placebo group blinding was to determine safety but not efficacy. The primary outcome was the proportion of patients progressing to higher stages of disease within 6 months as measured using the ALS Milano-Torino staging system, compared with a historical cohort of 200 patients with ALS. The secondary outcomes were the rate of decline in the total revised ALS functional rating scale score, slow vital capacity change, time to death, tracheotomy or permanent ventilation and serum light neurofilament level at 6 months. The primary assessment of efficacy was performed using intention-to-treat analysis. The treatment arms using 64 mg and 32 mg guanabenz, both alone and combined, reached the primary hypothesis of non-futility, with the proportions of patients who progressed to higher stages of disease at 6 months being significantly lower than that expected under the hypothesis of non-futility and a significantly lower difference in the median rate of change in the total revised ALS functional rating scale score. This effect was driven by patients with bulbar onset, none of whom (0/18) progressed to a higher stage of disease at 6 months compared with those on 16 mg guanabenz (4/8; 50%), the historical cohort alone (21/49; 43%; P = 0.001) or plus placebo (25/60; 42%; P = 0.001). The proportion of patients who experienced at least one adverse event was higher in any guanabenz arm than in the placebo arm, with higher dosing arms having a significantly higher proportion of drug-related side effects and the 64 mg arm a significantly higher drop-out rate. The number of serious adverse events did not significantly differ between the guanabenz arms and the placebo. Our findings indicate that a larger trial with a molecule targeting the unfolded protein response pathway without the alpha-2 adrenergic related side-effect profile of guanabenz is warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2635-2647
Number of pages13
JournalBrain : a journal of neurology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Oct 22 2021


  • Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Agonists/pharmacology
  • Aged
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis/diagnosis
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Guanabenz/pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Unfolded Protein Response/drug effects


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