To study the involvement of motor and sensory pathways in neurolathyrism, 19 patients with lathyrism from Unnao, India, where lathyrism is endemic, were studied. The mean age of the patients at the time of the onset of illness was 35.8 (range 18-70) years. The mean duration of illness was 15.6 (range 2-30) years. The clinical picture comprised walking difficulty due to stiffness and mild weakness in all 19 patients, cramps in the legs in five, frequency or urgency of micturition in five, and flexor spasms in three. There was pronounced leg spasticity with a mean Ashworth score of 4.1 (range 2.9-5). Central motor conduction to the tibialis anterior muscle (CMCT-TA) was slow in 14 of the 17 patients (21 sides). Slowing of peripheral motor nerve conduction, although less pronounced, was significant in the upper limb in four and the lower limb in seven sides. The tibial somatosensory evoked potentials were normal and peroneal nerve conduction was marginally impaired. Values for CMCT-TA correlated with the degree of spasticity (p < 0.02) whereas weakness, crossed adductor reflexes, and clonus did not. The wide variability of CMCT-TA in lathyrism may be due to involvement of different types of fibres. Large diameter fibre involvement may cause pronounced slowing. Small diameter fibre involvement could produce appreciable spasticity and mild weakness but a lesser degree of slowing or even normal conduction.
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