The test–retest reliability of large and small fiber nerve excitability testing with threshold tracking

Hossein Pia, Zahra Nochi, Alexander Gramm Kristensen, Bernhard Pelz, Marcus Goetz, Jan Niclas Hoeink, Anthony James Blockeel, André Mouraux, Andrea Truini, Nanna Brix Finnerup, Keith Geoffrey Phillips, Rolf Detlef Treede, Hatice Tankisi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Objective: Standard nerve excitability testing (NET) predominantly assesses Aα- and Aβ-fiber function, but a method examining small afferents would be of great interest in pain studies. Here, we examined the properties of a novel perception threshold tracking (PTT) method that preferentially activates Aδ-fibers using weak currents delivered by a novel multipin electrode and compared its reliability with NET. Methods: Eighteen healthy subjects (mean age:34.06 ± 2.0) were examined three times with motor and sensory NET and PTT in morning and afternoon sessions on the same day (intra-day reliability) and after a week (inter-day reliability). NET was performed on the median nerve, while PTT stimuli were delivered through a multipin electrode located on the forearm. During PTT, subjects indicated stimulus perception via a button press and the intensity of the current was automatically increased or decreased accordingly by Qtrac software. This allowed changes in the perception threshold to be tracked during strength-duration time constant (SDTC) and threshold electrotonus protocols. Results: The coefficient of variation (CoV) and interclass coefficient of variation (ICC) showed good–excellent reliability for most NET parameters. PTT showed poor reliability for both SDTC and threshold electrotonus parameters. There was a significant correlation between large (sensory NET) and small (PTT) fiber SDTC when all sessions were pooled (r = 0.29, p = 0.03). Conclusions: Threshold tracking technique can be applied directly to small fibers via a psychophysical readout, but with the current technique, the reliability is poor. Significance: Further studies are needed to examine whether Aβ-fiber SDTC may be a surrogate biomarker for peripheral nociceptive signalling.

Original languageEnglish
JournalClinical Neurophysiology Practice
Pages (from-to)71-78
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Motor nerve excitability testing
  • Pain biomarker
  • Perception threshold tracking
  • Sensory nerve excitability testing
  • Test–retest reliability


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