Morphometric and biochemical studies of peripheral nerves in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Ann Neurol. 1983 Sep;14(3):267-77. doi: 10.1002/ana.410140304.


Phrenic nerves of 11 patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis studied postmortem contained only 33% of the normal number of large myelinated fibers (9 controls; p less than 0.001). In the phrenic nerves of these patients, there were 18% fewer large myelinated fibers in the distal segment than in the proximal segment (p less than 0.025). The ratio of axonal circumference to myelin lamellae in large myelinated fibers in the distal segment was 34% greater than that in control fibers (p less than 0.002). The proportion of acute axonal degeneration was the same at all levels (48.0 +/- 13.7%). Sural nerves of 21 patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis had more acute axonal degeneration and 30% fewer myelinated fibers (p less than 0.05) than controls; evidence of degeneration also extended to unmyelinated fibers. The amount of axonal transport of acetylcholinesterase in 9 sural nerves determined in vitro was reduced by 24% (p less than 0.05) and the apparent transport rate was reduced by 44% (p less than 0.01) compared with 4 controls. These findings show that in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis a small degree of dying-back change and of distal axonal atrophy is superimposed on the degeneration of motor neuron cell bodies, and that the disease effects spread beyond the motor neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase / metabolism*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Axonal Transport
  • Biopsy
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Myelin Sheath / ultrastructure
  • Nerve Degeneration
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / ultrastructure
  • Peripheral Nerves / pathology*
  • Peroneal Nerve / pathology
  • Phrenic Nerve / pathology
  • Sural Nerve / pathology


  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase
  • Acetylcholinesterase