Epidermal innervation: Changes with aging, topographic location, and in sensory neuropathy

Giuseppe Lauria, Neil Holland, Peter Hauer, David R. Cornblath, John W. Griffin, Justin C. McArthur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

147 Scopus citations


In previous work we demonstrated little effect of aging on the density and spatial pattern of epidermal innervation, however, this was restricted to two sites proximal and distal in the leg. To expand on these observations, we used punch skin biopsy in ten healthy controls to examine the variation in intra-epidermal nerve fiber (IENF) density at multiple specific sites in the leg. There was a consistent gradient in IENF from proximal to distal sites in all subjects, but minimal effect of age was noted. In the older age group (≥ 70 years), the IENF densities ranged from 28.6 ± 1.9 IENF/mm at the trunk to 15.5 ± 1.5 at the distal leg. In a group of six patients with painful sensory neuropathy, we confirmed a length-dependent reduction in IENF. We observed what may be a predegenerative change, namely increased branching of epidermal nerve fibers at clinically unaffected sites. These data suggest little age-related change in IENF, at least up to age 75 years, in healthy normals. The increased branching complexity noted in unaffected sites in patients with sensory neuropathies implies that this may be a predegenerative change, preceding the actual loss of nerve fibers. Skin biopsy may be a useful tool for assessing the topographic extent and degree of nerve fiber damage in sensory neuropathies and its quantitative interpretation should be little affected by aging changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)172-178
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the Neurological Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 1999


  • Aging
  • Epidermal fibers
  • Sensory neuropathy
  • Skin biopsy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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