Neurological manifestations of the post-polio syndrome

Crit Rev Neurobiol. 1987;3(3):199-220.


Patients with late effects of poliomyelitis, i.e., PPS, are being seen at an ever increasing frequency by general physicians, neurologists, and orthopedists. An appropriate time interval for the onset of late manifestations has elapsed since the major epidemics of poliomyelitis in the 1940s and 1950s. Post-polio neurological manifestations primarily include new weakness, atrophy, muscle pain, and fasciculations. Fortunately, the weakness is of a very slow, progressive nature. Abnormal laboratory studies include routine EMG, demonstrating chronic denervation; SFEMG, demonstrating increased fiber density, increased jitter, and blocking; and muscle biopsy most often revealing fiber-type grouping of chronic denervation and small isolated angular (or angulated) fibers and group atrophy in some series, both suggestive of active denervation. Unfortunately, both EMG and muscle biopsy studies suffer from a lack of specificity as they do not appear to distinguish asymptomatic from symptomatic (new weakness, PPMA) patients with prior poliomyelitis. Although the cause of PPMA is unknown, electrophysiological (SFEMG) and muscle biopsy studies suggest that the process involves a loss or dropout of axon terminals of reinnervated motor units. The axons terminal dropout could be due to dysfunction in the cell soma, the axon, or the terminals themselves. Whether motor neuron exhaustion, a persistent viral infection, or immune-mediated mechanisms play a role in the pathogenesis of the late weakness is unclear at present and will require further investigation. Treatment at this time is of a supportive nature. A major controversy involves the role of strengthening exercises in these patients since experimental animal studies suggest that excessive exercise of denervated muscles leads to increased weakness. Clearly, a better understanding of PPS and PPMA will allow more effective management of these patients' problems and might also provide insight into other motor neuron and neuromuscular junction diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Motor Neurons / physiopathology
  • Muscles / physiopathology
  • Neurologic Manifestations / physiopathology*
  • Neuromuscular Diseases / etiology
  • Poliomyelitis / complications*
  • Poliomyelitis / physiopathology
  • Syndrome
  • Time Factors