Summary: In routine recordings of tibial nerve somatosensory evoked potentials (SEPs), a global central conduction time is evaluated by measuring the interval between the segmental spinal N22 potential, recorded in the lumbar region, and the cortical P39 potential. In this study, we tested the reliability of the scalp far-field P30 potential, which originates in the vicinity of the cervico-medullary junction, in order to evaluate separately intraspinal and intracranial conduction in normal subjects and patients with cervical cord and intracranial lesions. P30 and cortical P39 potentials were studied in 23 healthy subjects and in 70 patients with cervical cord (n = 47), brainstem (n = 11) or hemispheric lesions (n = 12) selected on the basis of neuroimaging–computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance (MR)–findings. Median nerve SEPs were also recorded in all patients. Of the several montages tested to obtain the P30 potential, the Fpz-Cv6 derivation gave the highest signal-to-noise ratio; it permitted to obtain a P30 potential that peaked at 29.2 ± 1.6 ms in all normal subjects. P30 abnormalities were observed only in patients with cervical or cervico-medullary lesions; these were associated with a normal P39 in only two of 33 abnormal recordings. Conversely, P30 was consistently normal in lesions situated above the cervico-medullary junction whether associated with normal, delayed, or reduced P39. P30 abnormalities were subclinical in 42% of abnormal recordings. All patients with normal tibial and median nerve SEPs on both sides had normal touch, joint, and vibration sensation in the four limbs. There was a strong correlation between tibial nerve P30 and median nerve PI4 data in the whole series of patients; both potentials behaved similarly in all cases of intracranial supramedullary lesions. Combined abnormalities of P30 and P39 potentials thus indicate that conduction is impaired at the spinal level and proved to be particularly informative for detecting spinal cord dysfunction in patients with neuroimaging evidence of a narrowed cervical canal. Recording of abnormal N13, PI 4, or P30 potentials provided evidence of a cervical cord dysfunction in 66% of patients who had a suspected spondylotic myelopathy. Recording of tibial nerve P30 potential has proven to give reliable and useful information when a separate assessment of intraspinal and intracranial somatosensory conduction is needed; it merits inclusion, as does the upper limb N13 potential, in the evaluation of patients whose MR image indicates cervical canal narrowing.
Copyright © 1995 American Clinical Neurophysiology Society