Oaklander, Anne Louise

OaklanderAnne Louise Oaklander, MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Neurology
Harvard Medical School
Assistant in Neurology and Neuropathology at Massachusetts General Hospital
Director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Nerve Unit Group.
Boston, MA

Small-Fiber Peripheral Neuropathy: A Pathway for Some Patients

Dr. Oaklander, Associate Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and Assistant in Neurology and Neuropathology at Massachusetts General Hospital, directs MGH’s Nerve Unit group. After undergraduate studies at Columbia and Cornell she received M.D. and Ph.D. degrees (neuroscience) from Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She completed neurology residency at Rutgers, fellowships in peripheral nerve and neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, then joined Hopkins’ faculty. At Harvard she directs the federally-funded Nerve Unit research team that identified the causes of chronic pain after shingles and limb injuries. They discovered a new small-fiber polyneuropathy that causes disabling multi-symptom illnesses in young people, and that small-fiber polyneuropathy underlies 40% of fibromyalgia cases. They proposed that some small-fiber neuropathies are autoimmune and demonstrated efficacy of immunotherapy (IVIg). She has more than 100 publications and serves on editorial boards of professional journals. A Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Neurological Association, her research has been profiled in Science, Scientific American Mind, and by PBS. She is listed in America’s Top Doctors, America’s Top Physicians, and US News and World Report. She serves on NIH’s Research Council and has served on panels for the NIH, the FDA, and the Institute of Medicine.

Conference Lecture Summary:

Our research team investigates biological causes of unexplained sensory and other symptoms.  We have studied unexplained multisymptom illnesses that include chronic widespread pain, itching, dizziness on standing and rapid heartbeat (POTS), and gastrointestinal symptoms.  In some but not all clinical patients and research subjects, we find objective evidence suggesting that small-fiber polyneuropathy (SFPN) may be part of the problem. The strongest studies so far are for fibromyalgia. Our lab and others around the world have published that about 40% of fibromyalgia patients have skin biopsies and other neurological evidence of SFPN. For them, we recommend the standard blood tests to look for potentially treatable causes or contributors, especially smoking and diabetes, and then medical treatment targeting their own problem.  We have helped identify disease-specific treatments for genetic and autoimmune types of SFPN.  We provide non-commercial information for the public at and in a public lecture at Radcliffe posted at