Cognitive, behavioral, and psychological phenotypes in small fiber neuropathy: A case-control study

Cortex. 2024 Apr:173:208-221. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2024.01.012. Epub 2024 Feb 15.


Objective: Small fiber neuropathy (SFN) is a well-defined chronic painful condition causing severe individual and societal burden. While mood disorders have been described, cognitive and behavioral profiles of SFN patients has not been investigated.

Methods: Thirty-four painful SFN patients underwent comprehensive cognitive, behavioral, psychological, quality of life (QoL), and personality assessment using validated questionnaires. As control samples, we enrolled 36 patients with painful peripheral neuropathy (PPN) of mixed etiology and 30 healthy controls (HC). Clinical measures of neuropathic pain, duration, frequency, and intensity of pain at the time of assessment were recorded. Between-group and correlation analyses were performed and corrected for multiple comparisons.

Results: No differences in clinical measures were found between SFN and PPN, and all groups had similar cognitive profiles. SFN patients showed higher levels of anxiety and alexithymia (p < .005) compared to PPN and HC, considering also pain intensity. Maladaptive coping strategies characterized both patient groups, but only SFN revealed higher levels of acceptance of pain (p < .05). Pain intensity and neuropathic symptoms were associated with mood, low QoL and catastrophism (p < .001), particularly, the higher the perceived pain intensity, the higher the use of maladaptive coping strategies (p < .001). The personality assessment revealed significant feelings of worthlessness and somatization traits both in SFN and PPN (p < .002 vs HC).

Discussions: our results suggest that SFN patients had a normal-like cognitive profile, while their behavioral profile is characterized by mood disorders, alexithymia, maladaptive coping strategies, and poor QoL, as other chronic pain conditions, possibly related to pain intensity. Personality assessment suggests that somatization and feelings of worthlessness, which may worsen the neuropsychological profile, deserve clinical attention when considering patients' therapeutic approaches. At the same time, the high level of acceptance of pain is promising for therapeutic approaches based on psychological support.

Keywords: Chronic pain; Cognitive impairment; Peripheral neuropathy; Psychological wellbeing; Small fiber neuropathy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Neuralgia* / diagnosis
  • Neuralgia* / etiology
  • Neuralgia* / therapy
  • Pain*
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases*
  • Phenotype
  • Quality of Life
  • Small Fiber Neuropathy* / complications
  • Small Fiber Neuropathy* / diagnosis

Supplementary concepts

  • Neuropathy, Painful