Skin biopsies have primarily been used to study the non-myelinated nerve fibers of the epidermis in a variety of neuropathies. In this study, we have expanded the skin biopsy technique to glabrous, non-hairy skin to evaluate myelinated nerve fibers in the most highly prevalent peripheral nerve disease, diabetic polyneuropathy (DPN). Twenty patients with DPN (Type I, n = 9; Type II, n = 11) and 16 age-matched healthy controls (age 29-73) underwent skin biopsy of the index finger, nerve conduction studies (NCS), and composite neuropathy scoring. In patients with DPN, we found a statistically significant reduction of both mechanoreceptive Meissner corpuscles (MCs) and their afferent myelinated nerve fibers (p = 0.01). This myelinated nerve fiber loss was correlated with the decreased amplitudes of sensory/motor responses in NCS. This study supports the utilization of skin biopsy to quantitatively evaluate axonal loss of myelinated nerve fibers in patients with DPN.
© 2013 Peripheral Nerve Society.