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Pitfalls in electrodiagnosis of Guillain–Barré syndrome subtypes
  1. Antonino Uncini1,2,
  2. Claudia Manzoli1,
  3. Francesca Notturno1,2,
  4. Margherita Capasso1
  1. 1Department of Neuroscience and Imaging, University ‘G. d'Annunzio’ Chieti-Pescara, Italy
  2. 2Neurocenter of Southern Switzerland (EOC), Lugano, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Antonino Uncini, Clinica Neurologica, University ‘G d'Annunzio,’ Ospedale Clinicizzato ‘SS Annunziata,’ Ospedale ‘SS Annunziata,’ Via dei Vestini, Chieti 66013, Italy; uncini{at}


Objective To electrophysiologically classify an Italian Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS) population into demyelinating and axonal subtypes, to investigate how serial recordings changed the classification and to underline the pitfalls in electrodiagnosis of GBS subtypes.

Methods The authors applied two current electrodiagnostic criteria sets for demyelinating and axonal GBS subtypes in 55 patients who had at least two serial recordings in three motor and sensory nerves.

Results At first test, the electrodiagnosis was almost identical with both criteria: 65–67% of patients were classifiable as acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP), 18% were classifiable as axonal GBS, and 14–16% were equivocal. At follow-up, 24% of patients changed classification: AIDP decreased to 58%, axonal GBS increased to 38%, and equivocal patients decreased to 4%. The majority of shifts were from AIDP and equivocal groups to axonal GBS, and the main reason was the recognition by serial recordings of the reversible conduction failure and of the length-dependent compound muscle action potential amplitude reduction patterns as expression of axonal pathology.

Conclusions Axonal GBS is pathophysiologically characterised not only by axonal degeneration but also by reversible conduction failure at the axolemma of the Ranvier node. The lack of distinction among demyelinating conduction block, reversible conduction failure and length-dependent compound muscle action potential amplitude reduction may fallaciously classify patients with axonal GBS as having AIDP. Serial electrophysiological studies are mandatory for proper diagnosis of GBS subtypes and the identification of pathophysiological mechanisms of muscle weakness. More reliable electrodiagnostic criteria taking into consideration the reversible conduction failure pattern should be devised.

  • Guillain-Barré Syndrome
  • clinical neurophysiology
  • neurophysiology
  • clinical

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  • Funding This study was supported by a grant from Ministero della Salute (Ricerca Corrente 2006).

  • Competing interests AU received research support from Kedrion and payement for lectures by Pfizer.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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