Remote neurotrophic support of epidermal nerve fibres in experimental diabetes

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The support of distal regenerating axons and epidermal nerve fibres through growth factor delivery may depend on the site of delivery. While low-dose systemic insulin provides trophic support for regenerating axons or axons from diabetic animals, its potential action upon the most distal neurites within the epidermis is unknown. In diabetic neuropathy, distal loss of axons is an important clinical and pathological feature. We hypothesised that insulin and IGF-1 delivered intrathecally could support the most distal epidermal nerve fibres.

Materials and methods

As insulin and IGF-1 receptors are present upon sensory ganglion perikarya, we studied the impact of intrathecal delivery of low-dose insulin and equimolar IGF-1 on the density of epidermal axons expressing protein gene product 9.5 in experimental diabetic rats. After 2 months of diabetes induced by streptozotocin injection, intrathecal delivery of low-dose insulin or IGF-1 or saline was provided for 1 month, with comparison to compatible doses of subcutaneous insulin delivery.


Diabetes, in itself, was associated with a decline in epidermal nerve fibre density. Delivery of both intrathecal IGF-1 and insulin was associated with significant improvement in epidermal fibre density (greatest with IGF-1) and length relative to placebo.


Central intrathecal delivery of IGF-1 and insulin offers remote support for epidermal nerve fibres, subjected to ‘dying-back’ in early diabetic polyneuropathy.

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