Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease with a life-time risk of 1 in 350 people and an unmet need for disease-modifying therapies. We conducted a cross-ancestry GWAS in ALS including 29,612 ALS patients and 122,656 controls which identified 15 risk loci in ALS. When combined with 8,953 whole-genome sequenced individuals (6,538 ALS patients, 2,415 controls) and the largest cortex-derived eQTL dataset (MetaBrain), analyses revealed locus-specific genetic architectures in which we prioritized genes either through rare variants, repeat expansions or regulatory effects. ALS associated risk loci were shared with multiple traits within the neurodegenerative spectrum, but with distinct enrichment patterns across brain regions and cell-types. Of the environmental and life-style risk factors obtained from literature, Mendelian randomization analyses indicated a causal role for high cholesterol levels. All ALS associated signals combined reveal a role for perturbations in vesicle mediated transport and autophagy, and provide evidence for cell-autonomous disease initiation in glutamatergic neurons.