Transcutaneous electrical stimulation of the central nervous system was used to measure motor conduction velocity in the human spinal cord in 21 subjects aged 22 to 75 years (mean 55 years), none of whom had neurological disease. The motor conduction velocity between the sixth cervical (C6) and first lumbar (L1) vertebral levels was 67.4 +/- 9.1 m/s. This probably represents conduction velocity in the corticospinal tracts. In these subjects the motor conduction velocity in the cauda equina, between the first lumbar (L1) and fourth lumbar (L4) vertebral levels, was 57.9 +/- 10.3 m/s. In four of five patients with multiple sclerosis, all with corticospinal signs in the legs, motor conduction velocity between C6 and L1 was slowed (41.8 +/- 16.8 m/s), but cauda equina conduction was normal (55.8 +/- 7.8 m/s). Similar slowing of spinal cord motor conduction was found in a patient with radiation myelopathy. This method should provide a relevant, simple clinical test in patients with spinal cord disease.
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