Microneurographic single-unit recordings to assess receptive properties of afferent human C-fibers

Neurosci Lett. 2010 Feb 19;470(3):158-61. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2009.05.064. Epub 2009 May 28.


Action potentials in unmyelinated peripheral axons can be recorded in awake humans by microneurography with small electrodes placed in a peripheral nerve. This technique provides extracellular recordings of single C-fibers and thus enables characterization of their sensory and axonal properties. By using microneurographical basic properties of afferent C-fibers such as conduction velocities, innervation territories, sensory thresholds and chemical responsiveness were measured. Moreover, axonal excitability changes induced by repetitive activation were assessed. Sensory and axonal properties of the different fiber classes cluster. Based on those specific properties, unitary functional classes of nociceptors (such as polymodal nociceptors and mechano-insensitive nociceptors) and non-nociceptors (such as tactile afferents and warm fibers) were classified. With normal data available, sensitization and desensitization of afferent fibers have been found in pathophysiologic states as detected in chronic pain patients. As subjects and patients are awake during the recording, microneurography provides a unique tool to correlate the discharge behaviour of afferent nerve fibers with the sensation evoked by certain stimuli.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Electrodiagnosis / methods*
  • Electrophysiology / methods*
  • Nerve Fibers, Unmyelinated / physiology*
  • Neural Conduction / physiology
  • Nociceptors / physiology*
  • Pain / diagnosis*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Thermosensing / physiology
  • Touch / physiology