Sensory action potentials and biopsy of the sural nerve in neuropathy

Brain. 1978 Sep;101(3):473-93. doi: 10.1093/brain/101.3.473.


In 167 consecutive patients with various types of neuropathy, the amplitude of the sensory potential and the maximum conduction velocity along the sural nerve were compared with conduction in other sensory nerves, and were related to structural changes revealed by nerve biopsy. Electrophysiological findings in the sural nerve were similar to those in the superficial peroneal and the median nerve, though the distal segment of the median nerve was normal in 20 per cent of the patients when it was abnormal in the sural nerve. Quantitation of histological findings was a more sensitive method than the electrophysiological study in that two-thirds of 33 patients with normal electrophysiology in the sural nerve showed mild loss of fibres or signs of remyelination in teased fibres. The amplitude of the sensory potential was grossly related to the number of large myelinated fibres (more than 7 micrometer in diameter). Considering the 95 nerves from which teased fibres were obtained, maximum conduction velocity was abnormal in half. In 18 of these nerves, slowing in conduction was due to axonal degeneration: the velocity was as to be expected from the diameter of the largest fibres in the biopsy ("proportionate slowing"). In 9 nerves slowing was severe and more marked than to be expected from loss of the largest fibres ("disproportionate slowing"); these nerves showed paranodal or segmental demyelination in more than 30 per cent of the fibres. In 16 nerves from patients with neuropathy of different aetiology neither loss of fibres nor demyelination could explain the moderate slowing. The cause of slowing in these nerves is unknown; other conditions are referred to in which slowing in conduction cannot be attributed to morphological changes. Finally, electrophysiological and histological findings are reported in some patients with neuropathy associated with malignant neoplasm, with rheumatoid arthritis, with polyarteritis nodosa, with acute intermittent porphyria and with cirrhosis of the liver.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Median Nerve / physiopathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Myelin Sheath / pathology
  • Neural Conduction*
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / pathology*
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Peroneal Nerve / physiopathology
  • Sensation / physiology
  • Spinal Nerves / pathology*
  • Sural Nerve / pathology*
  • Sural Nerve / physiopathology
  • Syndrome