• acute quadriplegic myopathy;
  • critical illness;
  • myopathy;
  • neuropathy;
  • thick filament loss


Areflexic quadriplegia that occurs in the intensive care unit (ICU) is commonly ascribed to critical illness polyneuropathy based upon electrophysiology or muscle light microscopy. However, electron microscopy often documents a selective thick filament loss myopathy. Eight ICU patients who developed areflexic quadriplegia underwent biopsy. Seven patients had received steroids, and 2 had also received paralytic agents. Electrodiagnostic studies revealed absent or low-amplitude motor responses in 7. Sensory responses were normal in 5 of 6 and absent in 1. Initial electromyography revealed absent (n = 3), small (n = 3), or polyphasic (n = 1) motor unit potentials, and diffuse fibrillation potentials (n = 5). In all 8, light microscopy of muscle revealed numerous atrophic-angulated fibers and corelike lesions, and electron microscopy revealed extensive thick filament loss. Morphology of sural and intramuscular nerves, and, in one autopsied case, of the obturator nerve and multiple nerve roots, was normal. Although clinical, electrodiagnostic, and light microscopic features mimicked denervating disease, muscle electron microscopy revealed thick filament loss, and nerve histology was normal. This suggests that areflexic ICU quadriplegia is a primary myopathy and not an axonal polyneuropathy. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Muscle Nerve 26: 499–505, 2002