Sympathetic sudomotor skin activity in human after complete spinal cord injury

Auton Neurosci. 2002 Nov 29;102(1-2):78-84. doi: 10.1016/s1566-0702(02)00207-2.


Spinal cord injury (SCI) causes serious disturbances in autonomic innervation and malfunction of the sympathetic nervous system that controls the pelvic organs, blood pressure, skin temperature and sweating. We studied sympathetic sudomotor pathways in 6 healthy subjects and 14 patients with sensory and motor complete SCI on cervical, thoracic and lumbar level. Sympathetic skin responses (SSRs) were provoked by auditory bursts and electrical stimulation of median, pudendal and tibial nerve and recorded from the palmar and plantar skin. The SSRs in healthy subjects occurred generally with the same pattern and with similar latencies suggesting a common sudomotor pathway mediating the SSR. Appearance or absence of the SSRs in SCI following stimulation above the lesion depend on the spinal level of lesion and on the location of stimulation. Lesions below T3 show palmar and lesions below T12 palmar and plantar SSR. Pudendal nerve stimulation evoked plantar SSRs in patients with complete cervical and thoracic SCI. No SSRs were obtained in patients with lesions at L1 and more caudal. SSRs following pudendal nerve stimulation in complete SCI above the level L1 are mediated by sacral somatic afferents and a sympathetic pathway originating at the upper lumbar level. The underlying sacro-lumbar reflex circuit is organized on spinal level and requires intact lumbar segments. Tibial nerve stimulation was not found to elicit SSRs below a SCI lesion and we suppose that this type of electrical stimulation cannot activate the spinal sudomotor reflex circuit.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic Fibers / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Efferent Pathways / physiology
  • Efferent Pathways / physiopathology
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Electromyography / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Skin / innervation*
  • Skin / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Sweat Glands / innervation*
  • Sweat Glands / physiopathology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology