We have compared the hyperemic response to heat and the endothelium-dependent and endothelium-independent vasodilatation between the dorsum of the foot and the forearm in diabetic neuropathic and non-neuropathic patients and healthy control subjects.


We studied the cutaneous microcirculation in the forearm and foot in 15 diabetic patients with neuropathy, in 14 diabetic patients without neuropathy, and in 15 control subjects matched for age, sex, BMI, and in the case of diabetic patients, for the duration of diabetes. Patients with peripheral vascular disease and/or renal impairment were excluded. The cutaneous microcirculation of the dorsum of the foot and the flexor aspect of the forearm was tested in all subjects. Single-point laser Doppler was employed to measure the maximal hyperemic response to heating of the skin to 44°C and laser Doppler imaging scanner was used to evaluate the response to iontophoresis of 1% acetylcholine chloride (Ach) (endothelium-dependent response) and 1% sodium nitroprusside (NaNP) (endothelium-independent response).


The transcutaneous oxygen tension was lower in the neuropathic group at both foot and forearm level, while the maximal hyperemic response to heat was similar at the foot and forearm level in all three groups. The endothelium-dependent vasodilation (percent increase over baseline) was lower in the foot compared to the forearm in the neuropathic group (23 ± 4 vs. 55 ± 10 [mean ± SEM] P < 0.01)], the non-neuropathic group (33 ± 6 vs. 88 ± 14; P < 0.01), and the control subjects (43 ± 6 vs. 93 ± 13; P < 0.001). Similar results were observed during the iontophoresis of NaNP (P < 0.05). No differences were found among the three groups when the ratio of the forearm:foot response was calculated for both the endothelium-dependent (neuropathic group, 2.25 ± 0.24; non-neuropathic group, 2.55 ± 0.35; and control subjects, 2.11 ± 0.26; P = NS) and endothelium-independent vasodilation (neuropathic group, 1.54 ± 0.27; non-neuropathic group, 2.08 ± 0.33; and control subjects, 2.77 ± 1.03; P = NS). The vasodilatory response, which is related to the C nociceptive fiber action, was reduced at the foot level during iontophoresis of Ach in the neuropathic group. In contrast, no difference was found during the iontophoresis of NaNP at the foot and forearm level and of Ach at the forearm level among all three groups.


In healthy subjects, the endothelial-dependent and endothelial-independent vasodilatation is lower at the foot level when compared to the forearm, and a generalized impairment of the microcirculation in diabetic patients with neuropathy preserves this forearm-foot gradient. These changes may be a contributing factor for the early involvement of the foot with neuropathy when compared to the forearm.

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