Motor evoked potentials (MEPs) from the arms and legs to transcranial stimulation of the motor cortex and somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEPs) from stimulation of the nerves of the arms and legs, were recorded in 11 patients with hereditary spastic paraplegia. Electrophysiological abnormalities were found to be distributed differently among the systems examined; the longer the pathway, the higher the incidence and severity of impairment. MEPs from the leg were either absent or clearly reduced or prolonged in all patients. Eight patients showed abnormal cortical SSEPs on stimulation of the leg (absent or reduced responses in four, slowed central conduction velocity in seven), but only two of these patients had abnormal MEPs from the arm (absent responses). Cortical SSEPs on stimulation of the median nerve were reduced in two patients. Mean values of amplitude and central conduction velocity for MEPs and SSEPs from the leg were significantly different between patients and controls. Such differences were not found for either MEPs or SSEPs from the arm. This distribution of abnormalities, which suggests a differential involvement of the spinal pathways, parallels the reported pathological pattern in which degeneration of axons is more common and severe in the motor and sensory fibres supplying the leg.
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