Abnormalities in axonal transport have been observed in human and experimental diabetes and may be related to the pathogenesis of diabetic neuropathy. Axonal transport has previously been evaluated by indirect methods. In this study, direct-measurement techniques were applied (with computer-enhanced video-recorded images) for the first time to evaluate intra-axonal organelle speed and frequency (the amount of organelle traffic) in both the anterograde fast component (AFC) and retrograde fast component (RFC) of axonal transport in diabetic nerve. Sciatic nerve and dorsal and ventral nerve roots were studied in the animal model of insulin-dependent diabetes (BB/Wistar rat) and sciatic nerve in the non-insulin-dependent (streptozocin-induced) model of diabetes (STZ-D rat). STZ-D rats were studied at 1 mo, and BB/Wistar rats were studied at 1 and 2 mo of diabetes duration. Statistically significant decreases in peripheral axon organelle speed were found only for RFC at 1 mo of diabetes in both the BB/Wistar (8.1%) and STZ-D (5.4%) rats. The difference was no longer significant in BB/Wistar rats at 2 mo of diabetes. This recovery suggests that the underlying abnormality is reversible. No differences were seen in AFC of any axons, and the only other difference seen was a 5.1% decrement in RFC at 2 mo in the ventral roots. No significant difference was observed in any group for organelle frequencies. Other factors should be considered to explain the decrease in materials transported in accumulation studies. The transient deficits in RFC speed observed remain of undetermined significance in the pathogenesis of diabetic neuropathy.

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