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Clin Neurophysiol. 2006 Nov;117(11):2357-84. Epub 2006 Aug 10.

Microneurography as a tool in clinical neurophysiology to investigate peripheral neural traffic in humans.

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Gifu University of Medical Science, 795-1 Nagamine Ichihiraga, Seki, Gifu 501-3892, Japan.


Microneurography is a method using metal microelectrodes to investigate directly identified neural traffic in myelinated as well as unmyelinated efferent and afferent nerves leading to and coming from muscle and skin in human peripheral nerves in situ. The present paper reviews how this technique has been used in clinical neurophysiology to elucidate the neural mechanisms of autonomic regulation, motor control and sensory functions in humans under physiological and pathological conditions. Microneurography is particularly important to investigate efferent and afferent neural traffic in unmyelinated C fibers. The recording of efferent discharges in postganglionic sympathetic C efferent fibers innervating muscle and skin (muscle sympathetic nerve activity; MSNA and skin sympathetic nerve activity; SSNA) provides direct information about neural control of autonomic effector organs including blood vessels and sweat glands. Sympathetic microneurography has become a potent tool to reveal neural functions and dysfunctions concerning blood pressure control and thermoregulation. This recording has been used not only in wake conditions but also in sleep to investigate changes in sympathetic neural traffic during sleep and sleep-related events such as sleep apnea. The same recording was also successfully carried out by astronauts during spaceflight. Recordings of afferent discharges from muscle mechanoreceptors have been used to understand the mechanisms of motor control. Muscle spindle afferent information is particularly important for the control of fine precise movements. It may also play important roles to predict behavior outcomes during learning of a motor task. Recordings of discharges in myelinated afferent fibers from skin mechanoreceptors have provided not only objective information about mechanoreceptive cutaneous sensation but also the roles of these signals in fine motor control. Unmyelinated mechanoreceptive afferent discharges from hairy skin seem to be important to convey cutaneous sensation to the central structures related to emotion. Recordings of afferent discharges in thin myelinated and unmyelinated fibers from nociceptors in muscle and skin have been used to provide information concerning pain. Recordings of afferent discharges of different types of cutaneous C-nociceptors identified by marking method have become an important tool to reveal the neural mechanisms of cutaneous sensations such as an itch. No direct microneurographic evidence has been so far proved regarding the effects of sympathoexcitation on sensitization of muscle and skin sensory receptors at least in healthy humans.

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