Endoneurial capillary abnormalities have been assessed quantitatively in sural nerve biopsies from diabetic patients with different syndromes of sensory polyneuropathy: chronic painful neuropathy, newly presenting painful neuropathy, and painless neuropathy associated with neurotrophic foot ulceration. Comparisons were made with age-matched nondiabetic control subjects. The diabetic groups showed no abnormality in capillary density or mean endoneurial area per fascicle. Compared with control subjects, all diabetic patients had an increase in mean capillary diameter, capillary wall thickness, and outer tunic (basement membrane and pericytes) thickness. The increase in wall thickness was most pronounced in patients with painless neuropathy (200%) and less marked in similar patients with painful neuropathy (100%). The pericyte volume fraction of the outer tunic was reduced in all diabetic patients, implying that basement membrane hypertrophy and reduplication were responsible for outer tunic thickening. There was evidence of endothelial cell hyperplasia rather than hypertrophy. There was a correlation between the degree of basement membrane thickening and the severity of myelinated fiber abnormality assessed neurophysiologically and morphologically. This study shows a link between the degree of endoneurial capillary basement membrane thickening, the type of neuropathology, and the clinical expression of neuropathy in diabetes mellitus.

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