Nerve growth factor (NGF) and diabetic neuropathy in the rat: morphological investigations of the sural nerve, dorsal root ganglion, and spinal cord

J W Unger, T Klitzsch, S Pera, R Reiter
Experimental Neurology 1998, 153 (1): 23-34
A number of functions for nerve growth factor (NGF) have been described over the past years, including its role for neuronal function and regeneration during toxic or metabolic neuropathies. In order to further assess the effects of NGF on the somatosensory system in diabetic neuropathy, the sural nerve, dorsal root ganglia (DRG), and dorsal horn of the spinal cord were investigated by morphological and quantitative methods in rats after 12 weeks of uncontrolled streptozotocin-induced diabetes mellitus. The results from our study suggest a twofold effect of NGF: (1) In sural nerve treatment with NGF (0.1 or 0.5 mg/kg) for 12 weeks was able to reverse distinct diabetes-related alterations in myelinated nerve fiber morphology, such as myelin thickness. These changes occurred in the entire myelinated population of sensory nerves and were not restricted to nociceptive nerve fibers. (2) The NGF effect on neurotransmitters of the sensory, nociceptive system was reflected by increased CGRP and substance P content in the DRG and in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord. No change of trkA receptor immunostaining was seen in DRGs of diabetic rats; however, a reduction of trkA immunoreactivity of DRG neurons was noted after long-term NGF treatment of healthy controls. The data demonstrate that NGF regulates a number of neuronal parameters along peripheral and central parts of the somatosensory pathway in the adult. This neurotrophic support may be essential for inducing functionally significant regenerative mechanisms in diabetic neuropathy.

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