The activity of tyrosine hydroxylase (TOH), the rate-limiting enzyme in norepinephrine biosynthesis, was measured in selected sympathetic ganglia to develop a quantitative measure of sympathetic autonomic neuropathy in streptozocin-induced diabetic rats. Surprisingly, TOH activity was elevated twofold in diabetic prevertebral ganglia innervating the alimentary tract (i.e., superior mesenteric, celiac, and inferior mesenteric), which has terminal processes that develop neuroaxonal dystrophy in this model system. TOH activity of paravertebral ganglia (i.e., superior cervical and stellate) with nonalimentary targets was not increased in the same animals. Increased TOH activity in the prevertebral ganglia 1) developed within the 1st wk of diabetes and persisted for 10 mo, 2) did not represent a change in TOH affinity for d-1,6-methyl-5,6,7,8-tetrahydropterine cofactor, 3) was prevented by both nicotinamide pretreatment and early institution of insulin therapy, and 4) did not develop as a result of classical transsynaptic induction. Pair-feeding experiments confirmed that the most likely cause of increased TOH activity in this system was the marked hypertrophy and hyperplasia of the diabetic bowel resulting from compensatory hyperphagia. We conclude that TOH activity does not represent a suitable marker for sympathetic autonomic neuropathy in this experimental system. Rather, the increase appears to be an example of a selective increase in the synthesis of neurotransmitter enzymes, possibly in response to increased trophic support provided by the expanded target, i.e., the hypertrophic gut. The additional synthetic stress imposed on prevertebral neurons by the expansion of the innervation of the alimentary target coupled with the complex diabetic metabolic milieu may contribute to the development and selective distribution of dystrophic axonopathy to the innervation of the alimentary tract.

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