It remains unknown why some people with diabetes develop painful neuropathies while others experience no pain. This study aimed to validate a novel method for assessing the function of small sensory nerves in diabetes to further elucidate this phenomenon. The function of large and small nerves was assessed using a novel perception threshold tracking technique in 3 well-characterized groups (n = 60) with type 1 diabetes, namely, (1) painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy (T1DM + PDPN), (2) painless diabetic peripheral neuropathy (T1DM + DPN), and (3) no neuropathy (T1DM - DPN), and healthy controls (n = 20). Electrical currents with different shapes, duration, and intensities were applied by 2 different skin electrodes activating large and small fibers, respectively. The minimal current needed to activate the fibers were analyzed as the rheobase of the stimulus-response function. Nerve fiber selectivity was measured by accommodation properties of stimulated nerves. The rheobase of both fiber types were highest for T1DM + PDPN, followed by T1DM + DPN, T1DM - DPN, and healthy controls, indicating that the nerve properties are specific in individuals with diabetes and pain. There was an overall significant difference between the groups ( P < 0.01). The accommodation properties of stimulated fibers were different between the 2 electrodes ( P < 0.05) apart from in the group with T1DM + PDPN, where both electrodes stimulated nerves displaying properties similar to large fibers. Perception threshold tracking reveals differences in large and small nerve fiber function between the groups with and without diabetes, DPN, and pain. This indicates that the methods have potential applications in screening DPN and explore further the features differentiating painful from nonpainful DPN.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)886-894
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2022 International Association for the Study of Pain.


  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Diabetic peripheral neuropathy
  • Large fibers
  • Microvascular complications
  • Nerve function
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Small fiber neuropathy


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