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Exp Neurol. 2001 Jul;170(1):149-61.

Streptozotocin-induced diabetes causes metabolic changes and alterations in neurotrophin content and retrograde transport in the cervical vagus nerve.

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Department of Pharmacology, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD 20814, USA.


Abnormal availability of neurotrophins, such as nerve growth factor (NGF), has been implicated in diabetic somatosensory polyneuropathy. However, the involvement of neurotrophins in diabetic neuropathy of autonomic nerves, particularly the vagus nerve which plays a critical role in visceral afferent and in autonomic motor functions, is unknown. To assess the effects of hyperglycemia on the neurotrophin content and transport in this system, cervical vagus nerves of streptozotocin (STZ)-induced diabetic rats were studied at 8, 16, and 24 weeks after the induction of diabetes. Elevations in vagus nerve hexose (glucose and fructose) and polyol levels (sorbitol), and their normalization with insulin treatment, verified that the STZ treatment resulted in hyperglycemia-induced metabolic abnormalities in the nerve. Neurotrophin (NGF and neurotrophin-3; NT-3) content and axonal transport were assessed in the cervical vagus nerves from nondiabetic control rats, STZ-induced diabetic rats, and diabetic rats treated with insulin. The NGF, but not the NT-3, content of intact vagus nerves from diabetic rats was increased at 8 and 16 weeks (but not at 24 weeks). Using a double-ligation model to assess the transport of endogenous neurotrophins, the retrograde transport of both NGF and NT-3 was found to be significantly reduced in the cervical vagus nerve at later stages of diabetes (16 and 24 weeks). Anterograde transport of NGF or NT-3 was not apparent in the vagus nerve of diabetic or control rats. These data suggest that an increase in vagus nerve NGF is an early, but transient, response to the diabetic hyperglycemia and that a subsequent reduction in neuronal access to NGF and NT-3 secondary to decreased retrograde axonal transport may play a role in diabetes-induced damage to the vagus nerve.

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