Stereological characteristics of the equine accessory nerve

K. Matiasek, P. Gais, K. Rodenacker, U. Jütting, J. J. Tanck, W. Schmahl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Stereological techniques have been increasingly employed for assessment and characterization of neuromuscular diseases in humans and animals. As an adjunct to histopathology, morphometrical algorithms provide quantitative evidence of the peripheral nerve composition, thereby shedding light on its fibre characteristics and basic electrophysiological properties. In the horse, stereological investigations already have focussed on the recurrent laryngeal, deep peroneal and lateral palmar nerves (LPN). Of these, only the latter is suitable for taking biopsies in clinical settings, however, it does not contain any motor fibres and Ia-afferents. On account of its virtually mixed fibre qualities, most researchers today recommend the cervical branch of the equine accessory nerve (AN) for harvesting diagnostic samples. Thus, the present study was carried out to gain morphometrical proof of the AN composition and to obtain stereological base values in healthy individuals using state-of-the-art technology. All parameters were compared to the common peroneal nerve (CPN), known to harbour all myelinated fibre classes. As this second biopsy site is located farther distally to the neuro-axis, attention was paid to possible length-dependent features. Taken together, digital image analysis could be accurately applied on all AN samples. Stereology supported the histological and clinical evidence that the AN contains all myelinated fibre types. The huge range and scatter of fibre counts and density (3351-17 812/mm2;) per fascicle were comparable to that measured in the equine common peroneal, deep peroneal, lateral palmar and recurrent laryngeal nerves. Similar to those, fibre diameter distribution was bimodal with slow Aβ- and Aγ-mechanoceptor afferents outnumbering large myelinated Aα-fibres by a factor of about 1.5. With a g-ratio at 0.55 ± 0.001, the overall degree of myelination in the AN is highly consistent and insignificantly ranges between that of the equine common peroneal and LPNs. Apart from this subtle deviation, a statistically relevant difference between the more proximal AN and the distal CPN could not be documented. By obtaining morphometrical standard parameters and even more sophisticated distribution indices, stereology is a valuable tool for detection of subtle changes that are likely to escape from the investigators' eyes. The AN serves as a reliable source for advanced peripheral nerve research and should be accompanied by farther distal nerve probes for assessment of neuropathies that present with a proximodistal gradient.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-213
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Veterinary Medicine Series C: Anatomia Histologia Embryologia
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2008
Externally publishedYes


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