Poisoning by organophosphorus insecticides and sensory neuropathy

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Poisoning by organophosphate insecticides causes cholinergic toxicity. Organophosphate induced delayed polyneuropathy (OPIDP) is a sensory-motor distal axonopathy which usually occurs after ingestion of large doses of certain organophosphate insecticides and has so far only been reported in patients with preceding cholinergic toxicity. Surprisingly, it was recently reported by other authors that an exclusively sensory neuropathy developed in eight patients after repeated unquantified exposures to chlorpyrifos, which did not cause clear-cut cholinergic toxicity. The objective was to assess whether an exclusively sensory neuropathy develops in patients severely poisoned by various OPs.


Toxicological studies and electrophysiological measurements were performed in peripheral motor and sensory nerves in 11 patients after acute organophosphate poisoning among which two subjects were poisoned with chlorpyrifos.


Three patients developed OPIDP, including one poisoned by chlorpyrifos. Exclusively sensory neuropathy was never seen after either single or repeated acute organophosphate poisoning. A mild sensory component was associated with a severe motor component in two of the three cases of OPIDP, the other was an exclusively motor polyneuropathy.


A sensory-motor polyneuropathy caused by organophosphate insecticides might occur after a severe poisoning and the sensory component, if present, is milder than the motor one. Bearing in mind the toxicological characteristics of these organophosphate insecticides, other causes should be sought for sensory peripheral neuropathies in patients who did not display severe cholinergic toxicity a few weeks before the onset of symptoms and signs.

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