The finding of conduction block (CB) within short consecutive segments along a motor nerve is a key feature of multifocal motor neuropathy (MMN). Despite their different pathogenesis, this may be the only clinical difference between some cases of MMN and the pure spinal muscular atrophy form of motor neuron disease (MND). In 12 patients with distal atrophy and fasciculations and electrophysiological evidence of CBs in the upper limbs, we measured the peripheral and central motor conduction times (PMCT and CMCT) to hand muscles. We reasoned that patients with MMN should show an abnormally prolonged PMCT with normal CMCT, whereas an increased CMCT would suggest MND. All patients had delayed F-wave latency and increased PMCT. Three patients had increased CMCT. Follow-up showed little clinical and electrophysiological change in 7 of the 9 patients with normal CMCT, and a progressive motor deficit leading ultimately to death in 1 of the 3 patients with increased CMCT. This patient's electrophysiological follow-up showed a significant decrement of the compound motor action potential to both proximal and distal stimulation points, with disappearance of earlier CBs. Autopsy revealed loss of anterior horn cells and axons of the ventral root, and degeneration of large myelinated fibers. We conclude that determining the CMCT may help in differentiating MND from MMN. Persistence of a stable clinical picture over a span of at least 1 year and lack of electrophysiological signs of involvement of upper motor neurons should both be required before establishing the diagnosis of MMN even with electrophysiological evidence of CB.
Copyright 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.