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Exp Neurol. 2003 Feb;179(2):188-99.

Restorative effects of neurotrophin treatment on diabetes-induced cutaneous axon loss in mice.

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Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City 66160, USA.


Chronic hyperglycemia in diabetes causes a variety of somatosensory deficits, including reduced cutaneous innervation of distal extremities. Deficient neurotrophin support has been proposed to contribute to the development of diabetic neuropathy. Here, studies were carried out in streptozotocin (STZ)-treated mice to determine whether (1) cutaneous innervation deficits develop in response to hyperglycemia, (2) neurotrophin production is altered in the skin, and (3) neurotrophin treatment improves cutaneous innervation deficits. Cutaneous innervation was quantified in the hindlimb skin using antibodies that label nerve growth factor- (NGF) responsive (CGRP), glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF)/neurturin (NTN) -responsive (P2X(3)), or all cutaneous axons (PGP 9.5). Diabetic mice displayed severely reduced cutaneous innervation for all three antibodies in both flank and footpad skin regions, similar to reports of cutaneous innervation loss in human diabetic patients. Qualitative assessment of mRNAs for NGF, GDNF, and NTN demonstrated that these mRNAs were expressed in hindlimb flank and footpad skin from diabetic mice. Next, diabetic mice were then treated intrathecally for 2 weeks with NGF, GDNF, or NTN. NGF treatment failed to improve cutaneous innervation, but stimulated axon branching. In comparison, GDNF and NTN treatment increased cutaneous innervation and axon branching. Our results reveal that similar to human diabetic patients, STZ-induced diabetes significantly reduces hindlimb cutaneous innervation in mice. Importantly, intrathecal treatment using GDNF or NTN strongly stimulated axon growth and branching, suggesting that administration of these trophic factors can improve cutaneous innervation deficits caused by diabetes.

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