A skin blister method to study epidermal nerves in peripheral nerve disease

Muscle Nerve. 1999 Mar;22(3):360-71. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1097-4598(199903)22:3<360::aid-mus9>3.0.co;2-j.


Skin is a reservoir of sensory and autonomic nerve fibers that are potential indicators of peripheral nerve disease. Biopsies of skin have shown that sensory nerves in the most superficial layer of skin, the epidermal nerve fibers (ENFs), are reduced in patients with polyneuropathy. This report describes a minimally invasive skin blister method to isolate, image, and obtain quantitative analysis of ENFs. Blisters are made by applying a suction capsule to skin. The epidermal roof of the blister is excised, immunostained, whole mounted, and analyzed for ENF number and distribution. A reduction in number and abnormal distribution of ENFs are early indicators of peripheral nerve disease. Illustrations of skin blister and skin biopsy specimens from patients with different types of peripheral nerve disorders are included. These patients were chosen because their findings demonstrate the complementary information obtained by the blister and biopsy methods and the potential of the blister procedure to evaluate single nerve lesions and polyneuropathy and to follow the progress of ENF degeneration and regeneration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blister / etiology
  • Blister / pathology*
  • Epidermis / innervation*
  • Female
  • Histological Techniques
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Fibers / ultrastructure
  • Neural Conduction / physiology
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / pathology*
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Reference Values
  • Sensation / physiology
  • Skin / pathology
  • Suction