Accumulating evidence suggests that alterations in Na, Ca, K, and other biologically relevant elements play a role in the mechanism of cell injury. The pathogenesis of experimental diabetic neuropathy is unknown but might include changes in the distribution of these elements in morphological compartments. In this study, this possibility was examined via electron-probe X-ray microanalysis to measure both concentrations of elements (millimoles of element per kilogram dry or wet weight) and cell water content (percent water) in frozen, unfixed, unstained sections of peripheral nerve from control and streptozocin-induced diabetic rats. Our results indicate that after 20 wk of experimental diabetes, mitochondria and axoplasm from myelinated axons of proximal sciatic nerve displayed diminished K and CI content, whereas in tibial nerve, the intraaxonal levels of these elements increased. In distal sciatic nerve, mitochondrial and axoplasmic levels of Ca were increased, whereas other elemental alterations were not observed. These regional changes resulted in a reversal of the decreasing proximodistal concentration gradients for K and CI, which existin nondiabetic rat sciatic nerve. Our results cannot be explained on the basis of altered water. Highly distinctive changes in elemental distribution observed might be a critical component of the neurotoxic mechanism underlying diabetic neuropathy.

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