Objective: To verify whether laser evoked potentials are useful in assessing the function of small afferent fibers and to compare dysfunction of large and small afferent fibers in patients with diabetic polyneuropathy.
Methods: The brain potentials evoked by CO2 laser stimulation of the hand and foot were studied in diabetic patients (n = 45) with various degrees of peripheral nerve damage. Laser evoked potentials (which assess the function of small myelinated afferents) were also compared with ulnar and sural nerve sensory action potentials (which assess the function of large myelinated afferents) by scoring the abnormalities of the two neurophysiological tests with similar criteria.
Results: Laser evoked potentials were often absent; the mean latency was normal and mean amplitude decreased, as expected in axonopathies. Although clinical examination showed more frequent impairment of vibratory than pinprick sensation, laser evoked potentials and sensory action potentials yielded similar abnormality scores and showed a strong intra-individual correlation.
Conclusions: Laser evoked potentials, possibly better than standard clinical examination for assessing the abnormalities of small-diameter afferents, indicate that diabetic polyneuropathy induces large- and small-afferent dysfunction in parallel.