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Abstract

This article reviews the determinants of conduction velocity in myelinated nerve fibers. For fibers exhibiting geometric similarity, conduction velocity is nearly proportional to diameter. However, in classes of geometrically similar fibers, myelin thickness and internode distance are linearly related to diameter. Therefore, it is not possible to assess the relative contributions of each of these factors. The relative effects of changes in each of these parameters on conduction velocity can be assessed from studies on fibers representing different similarity classes or from theoretical parametric studies. These studies show that for a fixed axon diameter, conduction velocity increases with myelin thickness. For a fixed total fiber diameter, there is an optimal ratio of axon diameter to total fiber diameter (and therefore to myelin thickness) at which conduction velocity is maximized. Conduction velocity is dependent on internode distance, with a broad maximum centered around the value observed in normal peripheral fibers. Conduction velocity is also dependent on temperature and the properties of the axonal milieu. Thus, the conduction speed of any given fiber reflects a number of parameters and is not determined by any single structural characteristic.