Diabetic polyneuropathy (DPN) renders progressive sensory neurodegeneration linked to hyperglycemia and its associated metabolopathy. We hypothesized that there may be additive impacts of direct insulin signaling, independent of glycemia and phosphatase and tensin homolog deleted on chromosome 10 (PTEN) knockdown on neuropathy. Our targets for combined interventions were neurons and Schwann cells (SCs) in vitro and chronic type 1 DPN in mice. Insulin receptor expression was not altered by high-glucose conditions in neurons or SCs, and insulin promoted survival of neurons and proliferation of SCs in vitro. There were additive impacts between insulin signaling and PTEN knockdown in sensory neuron outgrowth and in axon myelination by SCs. In a chronic mouse model of experimental DPN, unilateral intra–hind paw injections of a PTEN siRNA and local insulin had additive impacts on correcting key features of chronic experimental DPN independent of glycemia, including motor axon conduction and thermal and mechanical sensory loss. Moreover, combined interventions improved sural and tibial nerve myelin thickness, hind paw epidermal innervation, and pAkt expression in dorsal root ganglion sensory neurons. We conclude that local PTEN inhibition or knockdown and insulin provide additive trophic support for sensory neurons and SCs while reversing key abnormalities of experimental DPN but without requiring metabolic correction.

Article Highlights

  • Impaired growth and plasticity of neurons may contribute to chronic diabetic polyneuropathy.

  • Both direct insulin signaling of neurons and neuron knockdown of the protein phosphatase and tensin homolog deleted on chromosome 10 (PTEN), a roadblock to neuronal regenerative growth, offer direct support of neurons.

  • Direct insulin and PTEN knockdown using siRNA had additive impacts on neuron survival, Schwann cell proliferation, neuron outgrowth, and myelination in vitro.

  • Combined local insulin and PTEN siRNA hind paw injections improved abnormalities in chronic experimental diabetic polyneuropathy, including sensory axon loss, independently of glycemia.

V.M.P. and P.K. contributed equally to this work.

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