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Keywords:

  • conduction velocity;
  • human;
  • nerve fibres;
  • skin;
  • sympathetic;
  • unmyelinated

Abstract

Aims:  To describe and identify the function of a class of human C fibre with an unusual response to repetitive electrical stimulation. Other C fibres slow progressively at 2 Hz (type 1), reach a latency plateau (type 2) or hardly slow at all (type 3).

Methods:  C fibres innervating hairy skin were recorded by microneurography in the superficial peroneal nerves of 19 healthy volunteers. Baseline electrical stimulation of the skin was at 0.25 Hz, and activity-dependent slowing recorded during stimulation at 2 Hz for 3 min and after a 3-min pause in stimulation.

Results:  In 41 units, there was a partial recovery of latency during repetitive stimulation. These were classified as ‘type-4’ units, and identified as sympathetic efferents, since they exhibited spontaneously activity, which was enhanced by manoeuvres that increase sympathetic outflow (15 of 16 cases) and/or suppressed by a proximal anaesthetic block (eight of eight cases). The peak slowing during 2 Hz trains averaged 6.47 ± 2.06% (mean ± SD, n = 41), but after 3 min the slowing had reduced to 4.90 ± 2.20%, which was less than in all type 1 (nociceptor) fibres but similar to that in type 2 (cold) fibres. Compared with cold fibres, type-4 sympathetic fibres slowed more after the first 10 impulses at 2 Hz (2.57 ± 0.45%) and also after a pause in stimulation (1.66 ± 0.51%).

Conclusions:  The distinctive activity-dependent slowing profiles of these type-4 sympathetic C units may help identification in vitro, and suggest that hyperpolarization-activated channels have a particularly prominent role in the axonal membrane.