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Microneurography: how it started and how it works

Journal article
Authors Åke Vallbo
Published in Journal of Neurophysiology
Volume 120
Issue 3
Pages 1415-1427
ISSN 0022-3077
Publication year 2018
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Physiology
Pages 1415-1427
Language en
Keywords afferent impulses, human, microneurography, peripheral nerves, sensory mechanisms, human muscle nerves, unmyelinated tactile afferents, object manipulation, tasks, cutaneous sensory nerves, slow finger movements, human-skin, nerves, human hand, hairy skin, precision grip, intraneural, microstimulation, Neurosciences & Neurology, Physiology, keon b, 1980, electroencephalography and clinical neurophysiology, v48, p606, ambers mr, 1972, quarterly journal of experimental physiology and cognate medical, iences, v57, p417, lbot wh, 1968, journal of neurophysiology, v31, p301, lius w, 1972, acta physiologica scandinavica, v84, p65
Subject categories Neuroscience


In the first section, this historical review describes endeavors to develop the method for recording normal nerve impulse traffic in humans, designated microneurography. The method was developed at the Department of Clinical Neurophysiology of the Academic Hospital in Uppsala, Sweden. Microneurography involves the impalement of a peripheral nerve with a tungsten needle electrode. Electrode position is adjusted by hand until the activity of interest is discriminated. Nothing similar had previously been tried in animal preparations, and thus the large number of preceding studies that recorded afferent activity in other mammals did not offer pertinent methodological guidance. For 2 years, the two scientists involved in the research impaled their own nerves with electrodes to test various kinds of needles and explore different neural systems, all the while carefully watching for signs of nerve damage. Temporary paresthesiae were common, whereas enduring sequelae never followed. Single-unit impulse trains could be discriminated, even those originating from unmyelinated fibers. An explanation for the discrimination of unitary impulses using a coarse electrode is inferred based on the electrical characteristics of the electrode placed in the flesh and the impulse shapes, as discussed in the second section of this paper. Microneurography and the microstimulation of single afferents, combined with psychophysical methods and behavioral tests, have generated new knowledge particularly regarding four neural systems, namely the proprioceptive system, the cutaneous mechanoreceptive system, the cutaneous nociceptive system, and the sympathetic efferent system to skin structures and muscular blood vessels. Examples of achievements based on microneurography are presented in the final section.

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