Experimental diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN) is marked by impaired nerve conduction velocity (NCV), reduced nerve blood flow (NBF), and a variety of metabolic abnormalities in peripheral nerve that have been variously ascribed to hyperglycemia, abnormal fatty acid metabolism, ischemic hypoxia, and/or oxidative stress. Some investigators propose that NCV slowing in experimental DPN can be explained entirely on the basis of nerve energy depletion secondary to reduced NBF. This article reports highly selective effects of administration of the antioxidant DL-alpha-lipoic acid (LA) to streptozotocin-injected diabetic rats. LA improved digital sensory but not sciatic-tibial motor NCV, corrected endoneurial nutritive but not composite NBF, increased the mitochondrial oxidative state without correcting nerve energy depletion, and enhanced the accumulation of polyol pathway intermediates without worsening myo-inositol or taurine depletion. These studies implicate oxidative stress as an important pathophysiological factor in experimental DPN. They reveal complex interrelationships among nerve perfusion, energy metabolism, osmolyte content, conduction velocity, and oxidative stress that may reflect the heterogeneous and compartmentalized composition of peripheral nerve.

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