The toxic polyneuropathy observed in a group of shoe-industry workers in Italy was clinically characterised by a symmetrical prevalently distal motor deficit, with occasional marked weakness of pelvic girdle muscles, and frequently by only subjective sensory symptoms; non-specific disturbances usually preceded neurological signs. Subclinical cases of 'minimal' chronic neuropathy, characterised by alterations of a neurogenic type in the EMG without a reduction of motor nerve conduction velocity, were also observed. Worsening of the clinical picture, with further lowering of nerve conduction velocity, was noted in some cases up to four months after removal from the toxic environment. In the most severe cases clinical recovery took up to three years. The electromyographic and electroneurographic features were consistent with a mixed axonal neuropathy, with clear prevalence of the damage in the distal part of the nerve (dying-back neuropathy). Volatile substances, such as n-hexane and other low boiling point hydrocarbons found in high percentage in solvents and glues, are suggested as the causative agent.
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