Chronic experimental hyperglycemia mediated by galactose has been shown to induce browning and cross-linking of rat tail tendon collagen that could be duplicated in vitro by nonenzymatic galactosylation. To investigate the nature of these changes, Sprague-Dawley rats were placed on a 33% galactose diet without and with sorbinil for 6 and 12 mo. Collagen-linked fluorescence and pentosidine cross-links increased with age and galactosemia in tail tendons (P < 0.001) and skin but were essentially unresponsive to aldose reductase inhibition (ARI). In contrast, tendon breaking time in urea, a likely parameter of cross-linking, was markedly improved (P < 0.001) by ARI. Fluorescence that was inhibited by sorbinil treatment was increased in pepsin and proteinase K digest of aortic tissue from galactosemic rats (P < 0.001), but impaired enzymatic digestibility was not observed. Systolic blood pressure as potential consequence of aortic stiffening was not increased in galactosemia. These data suggest that fluorescence in skin and tendon might be in part due to advanced glycosylation and pentosidine formation because these were not decreased by ARI. However, they also suggest that nonfluorescent cross-links may also be forming because, in contrast to fluorescence, tail tendon breaking time was partly corrected by ARI. Thus, it appears that extracellular matrix changes in chronic galactosemia are complex, being partly attributable to advanced glycosylation and partly to polyol-pathway activation.

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