Alcoholic neuropathy is clinicopathologically distinct from thiamine-deficiency neuropathy

Ann Neurol. 2003 Jul;54(1):19-29. doi: 10.1002/ana.10550.


Characteristics of alcoholic neuropathy have been obscured by difficulty in isolating them from features of thiamine-deficiency neuropathy. We assessed 64 patients with alcoholic neuropathy including subgroups without (ALN) and with (ALN-TD) coexisting thiamine deficiency. Thirty-two patients with nonalcoholic thiamine-deficiency neuropathy (TDN) also were investigated for comparison. In ALN, clinical symptoms were sensory-dominant and slowly progressive, predominantly impairing superficial sensation (especially nociception) with pain or painful burning sensation. In TDN, most cases manifested a motor-dominant and acutely progressive pattern, with impairment of both superficial and deep sensation. Small-fiber-predominant axonal loss in sural nerve specimens was characteristic of ALN, especially with a short history of neuropathy; long history was associated with regenerating small fibers. Large-fiber-predominant axonal loss predominated in TDN. Subperineurial edema was more prominent in TDN, whereas segmental de/remyelination resulting from widening of consecutive nodes of Ranvier was more frequent in ALN. Myelin irregularity was greater in ALN. ALN-TD showed a variable mixture of these features in ALN and TDN. We concluded that pure-form of alcoholic neuropathy (ALN) was distinct from pure-form of thiamine-deficiency neuropathy (TDN), supporting the view that alcoholic neuropathy can be caused by direct toxic effect of ethanol or its metabolites. However, features of alcoholic neuropathy is influenced by concomitant thiamine-deficiency state, having so far caused the obscure clinicopathological entity of alcoholic neuropathy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcoholic Neuropathy / chemically induced
  • Alcoholic Neuropathy / complications
  • Alcoholic Neuropathy / diagnosis*
  • Axons / pathology
  • Biopsy
  • Ethanol / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Median Nerve / pathology
  • Median Nerve / physiopathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Myelin Sheath / pathology
  • Nerve Fibers / pathology
  • Nociceptors / physiology
  • Pain / complications
  • Ranvier's Nodes / pathology
  • Sural Nerve / pathology
  • Sural Nerve / physiopathology
  • Thiamine Deficiency / complications
  • Thiamine Deficiency / diagnosis*
  • Thiamine Deficiency / physiopathology*
  • Tibial Nerve / pathology
  • Tibial Nerve / physiopathology


  • Ethanol