Diagnostic validity of epidermal nerve fiber densities in painful sensory neuropathies

Muscle Nerve. 2008 Jan;37(1):50-60. doi: 10.1002/mus.20889.


In this prospective study, intraepidermal nerve fiber densities (IENFD) and subepidermal nerve plexus densities (SENPD) were quantified by immunostaining in skin punch biopsies from the distal calf in 99 patients with clinical symptoms of painful sensory neuropathy and from 37 age-matched healthy volunteers. The clinical diagnosis was based on history and abnormal thermal thresholds on quantitative sensory testing (QST). In patients with neuropathy, IENFD and SENPD were reduced to about 50% of controls. Elevated warm detection thresholds on QST correlated with IENFD but not with SENPD. Using receiver-operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis of IENFD values, the diagnostic sensitivity for detecting neuropathy was 0.80 and the specificity 0.82. For SENPD, sensitivity was 0.81 and specificity 0.88. With ROC analysis of both IENFD and SENPD together, the diagnostic sensitivity was further improved to 0.92. The combined examination of IENFD and SENPD is a highly sensitive and specific diagnostic tool in patients suspected to suffer from painful sensory neuropathies but with normal values on clinical neurophysiological studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Afferent Pathways / pathology
  • Afferent Pathways / physiopathology
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biopsy
  • Epidermis / innervation*
  • Epidermis / pathology*
  • Epidermis / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperalgesia / etiology
  • Hyperalgesia / pathology
  • Hyperalgesia / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuralgia / pathology*
  • Neuralgia / physiopathology
  • Nociceptors / pathology
  • Nociceptors / physiopathology
  • Pain Threshold / physiology
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / pathology*
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • ROC Curve
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / pathology*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiopathology