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Eur J Anaesthesiol Suppl. 2008;42:68-72. doi: 10.1017/S0265021508003505.

Nerve membrane excitability testing.

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  • 1University of Bern, Department of Neurology, Inselspital, Bern, Switzerland. werner.zgraggen@insel.ch


Routine motor nerve conduction studies measure latencies, conduction velocities and amplitudes of compound action potentials. These measurements can be very useful in defining the pathology, while they provide little insight into the underlying disease mechanisms. Increasingly, the technique of 'threshold tracking' is being used in research and clinical studies on large myelinated axons. Nerve excitability testing is a non-invasive approach in investigating the pathophysiology of peripheral nerve disorders, which determines the electrical properties of the nerve membrane at the site of stimulation. We have found evidence that in patients with critical illness polyneuropathy peripheral nerves are depolarized. The correlations with serum factors suggest that this membrane depolarization is related to endoneurial hyperkalemia and/or hypoxia. While other mechanisms of depolarization may well be involved, the degree to which potential-sensitive nerve excitability indices are related to serum potassium and bicarbonate suggests that other factors, independent of potassium and acid-base balance, are likely to be of relatively minor significance.

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