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J Neurol Sci. 1993 Dec 15;120(2):159-67.

Decrease of nerve Na+,K(+)-ATPase activity in the pathogenesis of human diabetic neuropathy.

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Department of Neurology, Dino Ferrari Center, University of Milan, Italy.


A decrease in Na+,K(+)-ATPase activity is claimed to play a central role in the pathogenesis of electrophysiological and morphological abnormalities that characterize the neuropathic complications in different animal models of diabetes mellitus. The peripheral nerves from 17 patients with either type I or type II diabetes mellitus were studied to assess the importance of changes in Na+,K(+)-ATPase activity in chronic human diabetic neuropathy. Sixteen nerves from age- and sex-matched normal individuals, and 12 nerves from non-diabetic neuropathic subjects undergoing vascular or orthopedic surgery served as negative and positive controls, respectively. All specimens were processed blind. Ouabain-sensitive ATPase activity was measured by a modified spectrophotometric coupled-enzyme assay. Standard histology, fiber teasing and electron microscopy were used to establish the normal or neuropathological patterns of surgical material. Morphometric analysis permitted calculation of fiber density in each nerve specimen and correlation of this figure with the relevant enzymatic activity. Na+,K(+)-ATPase activity was approximately 59% lower in nerves from diabetic patients than in normal controls (P < 0.01) and approximately 38% lower in nerves from non-diabetic patients with neuropathy (P < 0.01). Although nerves from both neuropathic conditions had significantly fewer fibers than those from normal individuals (diabetic -33%, and non-diabetic -22%), the decreases in Na+,K(+)-ATPase activity and fiber density were not correlated only in specimens from diabetic patients (r2 = 0.096; P = 0.22). Taken together with data from experimental animal models, these results suggest that the reduction in Na+,K(+)-ATPase activity in diabetic nerves is not an epiphenomenon secondary to fiber loss; rather, it may be an important factor in the pathogenesis and self-maintenance of human diabetic neuropathy.

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