Delayed responses to electrical stimuli reflect C-fiber responsiveness in human microneurography

M. Schmelz, C. Forster, R. Schmidt, M. Ringkamp, H. O. Handwerker, H. E. Torebjörk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


The slowing of impulse conduction during the relative refractory period has often been used to assess activation of C-fibers, in particular, in human microneurography. This study aimed to evaluate the sensitivity of this method and the factors affecting it. Thirty cutaneous C-fibers were recorded from the peroneal nerves of healthy human subjects. Intracutaneous electrical stimulation in the receptive field at 4 s intervals, after some minutes of adaptation, induced spike discharges at constant latency. One or more conditioning stimulus pulses were interpolated at different intervals and the increase in latency after the subsequent regular pulse was assessed. The latency shift was found to depend on the number of interposed pulses, on the time interval between conditioning and conditioned stimulus, and on the conduction velocity of the C-unit. The increase in latency was larger with greater distance between stimulating and recording electrodes, indicating a contribution of the conductile membrane over its whole length. On the other hand, slowing was more pronounced, on average, in slower conducting C-units and conduction velocities were slower when recordings were performed more distally. These findings indicate that the slower terminal nerve branches contribute most to the latency increases. Even a single additional spike in between two regular pulses caused a reliable latency shift of 1.2±0.2 ms (mean ±SEM) and additional pulses lead to an approximately linear latency increase (2 pulses: 2.3±0.3 ms; 4 pulses: 5.9±0.7 ms). In contrast to the number of interposed stimuli, different intervals between interposed and regular stimuli had only a minor impact on the latency shifts. It is concluded that latency shifts are reliable indicators of C-fiber activation, being sensitive enough to detect even single spike responses. Furthermore, latency increases may be used as a relative measure of C-fiber activation, e.g., when comparing responses to stimuli of different strength.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)331-336
Number of pages6
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • C-fiber responsiveness
  • Conduction velocity
  • Microneurography
  • Relative refractory period

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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