Action potentials from postganglionic C-fibres were recorded in healthy volunteers by microneurography in the peroneal nerve. Their responsiveness to mechanical or heat stimuli or to sympathetic reflex provocation tests was determined by transient slowing of conduction velocity following activation. Twenty units were classified as sympathetic efferent units. Acetylcholine (ACh) iontophoresis (10%, 1 mA, 1 min) inside their innervation territory activated 8 of 20 sympathetic fibres with a mean delay of 61 ± 12 s, peak response at 175 ± 38 s, and a duration of 240 ± 42 s, whereas iontophoresis of saline did not activate any of them. The time course of neuronal activation correlated with the axon reflex sweating measured by an evaporimeter in a separate session (delay 76 ± 9 s, peak at 195 ± 12 s, decline to 50% of peak 312 ± 25 s). No ACh-induced vasoconstriction was observed by laser Doppler scanning (n = 11) even after depletion of neuropeptides by chronic topical capsaicin treatment (n = 8). We conclude that ACh iontophoresis activates about half of the sympathetic fibres in human skin and provokes a corresponding axon reflex sweating. The absence of ACh-induced vasoconstriction even after the depletion of neuropeptides by capsaicin suggests that only sudomotor fibres, but not sympathetic vasoconstrictor fibres are activated by this stimulus.
© 2011 Peripheral Nerve Society.