Corneal confocal microscopy: a novel non-invasive technique to quantify small fibre pathology in peripheral neuropathies.
Peripheral Nervous System Diseases
The accurate quantification of peripheral neuropathy is important to define at risk patients, anticipate deterioration, and assess new therapies. Conventional methods assess neurological deficits and electrophysiology and quantitative sensory testing quantifies functional alterations to detect neuropathy. However, the earliest damage appears to be to the small fibres and yet these tests primarily assess large fibre dysfunction and have a limited ability to demonstrate regeneration and repair. The only techniques which allow a direct examination of unmyelinated nerve fibre damage and repair are sural nerve biopsy with electron microscopy and skin-punch biopsy. However, both are invasive procedures and require lengthy laboratory procedures and considerable expertise. Corneal Confocal microscopy is a non-invasive clinical technique which provides in-vivo imaging of corneal nerve fibres. We have demonstrated early nerve damage, which precedes loss of intraepidermal nerve fibres in skin biopsies together with stratification of neuropathic severity and repair following pancreas transplantation in diabetic patients. We have also demonstrated nerve damage in idiopathic small fibre neuropathy and Fabry's disease.