A Randomized, Double-blind Multicenter Pilot Study vs. Placebo for the Evaluation of Efficacy and Tolerability of Tauroursodeoxycholic Acid Administered by Oral Route as Add on Treatment in Patients Affected by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Study Purpose:

The preclinical rationale for tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA) use in treating patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) stems from the demonstration of antioxidant, antiapoptotic and neuroprotective properties of TUDCA in the central nervous system (CNS), both in vitro and in vivo models.

This protocol is meant for assessing if the addition of TUDCA to the conventional therapy can improve the therapeutic outcome in patients affected by ALS.

Safety will be assessed for all subjects, for the entire duration of the study. 30 patients affected by ALS with site of onset in the limbs will be recruited.

All enrolled subjects will continue receiving riluzole at the same regimen as before entering the trial. Based on an appropriate random code, subjects will be divided into two groups of equal size treated, after a lead-in period of 3 months, by oral route with TUDCA at the dose 2 g daily for 1 year or with identical placebo by oral route at the same dosing schedule, under double-blind conditions.

Every concomitant and/or supportive therapy will be admitted.

Evaluation criteria:

Efficacy. The proportion of responder patients in the two treatment groups was the primary outcome measure of the study. Responder patients were defined as those subjects showing an improvement of at least 15% in the ALSFRS-R (2) slope during the treatment period as compared to the lead-in period. This threshold was chosen based according to the consensus conference on designing and implementing clinical trials in ALS (3).

Other parameters will include ALSFRS-R at study end, FVC%, the SF-36 quality of life rating scale, time to tracheotomy from starting of study medication dosing (if appropriate), survival Time from starting of study medication dosing (if appropriate), Medical Research Council scores for right and left muscle groups.

Safety. Incidence, severity and type of adverse events; changes in clinical laboratory findings.

Study Status:

Not recruiting


Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Study Type:


Type of Intervention:


Intervention Name:

tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA), Placebo



Phase 2

Study Chair(s)/Principal Investigator(s):

Alberto Albanese, MD, Fondazione IRCCS Istituto neurologico Carlo Besta

Clinicaltrials.gov ID:


Neals Affiliated?


Coordinating Center Contact Information

Fondazione IRCCS Istituto neurologico Carlo Besta

Milan, Italy

Full Study Summary:

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or motor neuron disease (MND), is a rapidly progressive, fatal neurodegenerative condition characterized by loss of upper and lower motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. The terms ALS and MND are often used inter-changeably to cover the different clinical syndromes, which include upper and lower motor neuron disorder, progressive bulbar palsy, and pseudo-polyneuritic form.

Degeneration of lower motor neurons (LMN) in the anterior horns of spinal cord and brainstem leads to progressive muscular atrophy and eventually to death within a few years due to respiratory insufficiency. During the course of the disease, the involvement of tongue and pharynx muscles causes swallowing impairment with marked drooling, need of parenteral or enteral feeding, and finally gastrostomy. Denervation of laryngeal muscles causes loss of speech. Cramps and fasciculation typically occur from the early phases of the disease. Degeneration of upper motor neurons (UMN) in the brain cortex causes pyramidal tract dysfunctions including clonus, Babinski sign, hypertonia, and loss of dexterity that further limit patients' daily activities.

The incidence of ALS varies from 0.2 to 2.5 cases per 100,000 per year, although estimates vary between countries, likely reflecting a combination of availability of medical services, diagnostic accuracy, and demo-graphic characteristics of the area. Increasing life expectancy and improvements in standards of treatment and care will also result in an increased incidence of ALS. Globally, the overall rate is approximately 2 per 100,000. Its prevalence is approximately of 7 per 100,000. In Italy, the reported incidence of ALS is 2.2 cases/100,000/year.

There is currently no cure for ALS. Despite initial positive results in preclinical and early clinical studies, large-scale clinical trials with all agents except riluzole failed to demonstrate a clinically meaningful therapeutic effect in patients with ALS. Riluzole at the dose of 100 mg/day showed a significant difference on survival (6.4%; gain of 3 months) and slowed deterioration in muscle strength.

Primary involvement of apoptotic mechanisms has important implications in selecting drug candidates for therapy in ALS. Recent preclinical studies have demonstrated that TUCA is endowed with antioxidant, antiapoptotic and neuroprotective activities. In particular, TUDCA can cross the blood-brain-barrier and has been shown to exert a significant therapeutic effect in a model of HD mice.

Tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA) is a hydrophilic bile acid that is normally produced endogenously in humans at very low levels. TUDCA is synthesized in the liver by conjugation of taurine to ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), which is commonly used as a bile acid replacement therapy for the treatment of certain cholestatic syndromes.

The main pharmacological activity of TUDCA consists in its ability in increasing the cholesterol solubilising activity of bile, thus transforming "lithogenic" bile in "non-lithogenic" or "litholytic" bile.

TUDCA inhibits mitochondrial-associated apoptosis via many pathways: 1) it inhibits the mitochondrial permeability transition (MPT) and cytochrome C release, 2) it inhibits mitochondrial membrane depolarization, and 3) it antagonizes Bax translocation from the mitochondria and caspase activation in hepatocytes and brain. TUDCA may also ease oxidative stress.Study relevant TUDCA pharmacology consists in its antioxidant, antiapoptotic and neuroprotective activities evidenced in preclinical studies.

Recent reports have shown that hydrophilic bile acids, such as UDCA and TUDCA, can prevent hepatic cytotoxicity through several mechanisms. For example, TUDCA prevents the production of reactive oxygen species and thus acts as an antioxidant. Additionally, TUDCA mitigates mitochondrial insufficiency and toxicity, and prevents apoptosis, in part, by inhibiting Bax translocation from cytosol to the mitochondria. In hepatocytes, this inhibition results in reduced mitochondrial membrane perturbation, release of cytochrome c, and activation of downstream caspases. TUDCA reduced cytotoxicity in neurons through similar mechanisms, as well as mitochondrial pathways that are independent of the permeability transition. TUDCA prevented striatal degeneration and ameliorated locomotor and cognitive deficits in the in vivo 3-nitropropionic acid (3-NP) rat model of HD. Intracellular inclusions were significantly reduced, and the TUDCA-treated mice showed improved locomotor and sensorimotor abilities.

In addition, the antiapoptotic and cytoprotective effects of TUDCA have been tested in models of acute stroke. The possibility that TUDCA exerts an antiapoptotic action by ameliorating mitochondrial function raises the issue whether other neurological disorders, including Friedreich's ataxia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease, can benefit by the administration of TUDCA. This drug is a candidate neuroprotective agent for a variety of chronic neurodegenerative conditions.

Study Sponsor:

Fondazione I.R.C.C.S. Istituto Neurologico Carlo Besta

Estimated Enrollment:


Estimated Study Start Date:

05 / 31 / 2008

Estimated Study Completion Date:

04 / 01 / 2012

Posting Last Modified Date:

11 / 26 / 2014

Date Study Added to neals.org:

04 / 08 / 2009

Minimum Age:

18 Years

Maximum Age:

75 Years

Inclusion Criteria:

- Caucasian male or female out-patients;

- aged 18 to 75 years inclusive;

- diagnosis of "probable" or "definite" amyotrophic lateral sclerosis according to the El Escorial revised criteria (1);

- first symptoms of ALS by no more than 1.5 years;

- in treatment with steady regimen of riluzole for a minimum of 3 months before study entry, and desiring its continuation;

- FVC ≥ 75% of predicted;

- no conditions known to be contraindications to the use of TUDCA;

- written informed consent.

Exclusion Criteria:

- subjects who underwent tracheostomy;

- subjects who underwent resection of gall bladder;

- subjects with signs of conduction blocks of motor nerves, sensory nerves or both on nerve conduction study;

- subjects with clinical signs of dementia;

- subjects with active peptic ulcer;

- subjects with active malignancy;

- subjects with bulbar onset;

- female subjects who are pregnant or lactating

- subjects who have received an experimental drug or have participated in a clinical trial within 3 months prior to screening

- employees of the investigator or study centre with direct involvement in the proposed study or other studies under the direction of that investigator or study centre.

Fondazione IRCCS Istituto neurologico Carlo Besta

Milan 20133