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Abstract

Fascicles of the sural nerve from each of 20 diabetic patients, mostly with maturity-onset diabetes, were studied by biochemical and pathological techniques, and results were compared to values found in nerve specimens from 15 healthy persons. The sorbitol and fructose content was much more variable in diabetic than in healthy nerves. More than one-third of the diabetic nerves had sorbitol and fructose values above the highest levels for controls. myo-Inositol and scyllo-inositol content was not reduced in diabetic nerves. The sorbitol, fructose, and inositol concentrations could not be related to clinical, neurophysiological, or pathological severity of neuropathy. A comparison of scored symptoms and signs and clinical neurophysiological studies against morphometric and teased fiber studies of sural nerve demonstrated that the former three provide sensitive and reliable measures of severity of neuropathy that can be used for controlled clinical trials of diabetic neuropathy. The presence and type of teased fiber abnormalities could be related to the duration of diabetes and to symptoms of neuropathy. In untreated diabetics without symptoms of neuropathy, a higher than normal frequency of teased fibers showing segmental demyelination and remyelination was found. Untreated diabetics with symptomatic neuropathy showed two kinds of abnormalities: fibers with segmental demyelination and remyelination and fibers undergoing axonal degeneration. In treated diabetics, who often had longstanding neuropathy, the most common abnormalities were fibers undergoing axonal degeneration.