In order to find the best diagnostic index of conduction block and abnormal temporal dispersion, the amplitude, duration, and area of the compound muscle action potentials (CMAP) were studied in 40 normal controls and 28 patients with acquired demyelinating neuropathies. In the normal subjects, there was a substantial difference among the various nerves in the degree of CMAP amplitude reduction and CMAP duration prolongation with proximal stimulation, and thus different criteria should be used for conduction block or abnormal temporal dispersion for a given nerve. In 28 patients with demyelinating neuropathy, 58 of 207 (28%) tested nerve segments showed nerve conduction velocity (NCV) evidence of demyelination. To identify ''demyelination'' in these segments, conduction block was best detected by the total area method in 71% of cases, and abnormal temporal dispersion was best by the negative-peak duration method. This study showed that the best diagnostic index for conduction block is the total area method and for abnormal temporal dispersion, the negative-peak duration method. (C) 1994 John Wiley and Sons, Inc.