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Experimental Diabesity Research
Volume 4, Issue 4, Pages 271-285

Nerve Growth Factor and Diabetic Neuropathy

The Leonard Strelitz Diabetes Institutes, Department of Internal Medicine, and Department of Pathology/Neurobiology, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, Virginia, USA

Received 18 February 2003; Accepted 11 April 2003

Copyright © 2003 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Neuropathy is one of the most debilitating complications of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, with estimates of prevalence between 50–90% depending on the means of detection. Diabetic neuropathies are heterogeneous and there is variable involvement of large myelinated fibers and small, thinly myelinated fibers. Many of the neuronal abnormalities in diabetes can be duplicated by experimental depletion of specific neurotrophic factors, their receptors or their binding proteins. In experimental models of diabetes there is a reduction in the availability of these growth factors, which may be a consequence of metabolic abnormalities, or may be independent of glycemic control. These neurotrophic factors are required for the maintenance of the neurons, the ability to resist apoptosis and regenerative capacity. The best studied of the neurotrophic factors is nerve growth factor (NGF) and the related members of the neurotrophin family of peptides. There is increasing evidence that there is a deficiency of NGF in diabetes, as well as the dependent neuropeptides substance P (SP) and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) that may also contribute to the clinical symptoms resulting from small fiber dysfunction. Similarly, NT3 appears to be important for large fiber and IGFs for autonomic neuropathy. Whether the observed growth factor deficiencies are due to decreased synthesis, or functional, e.g. an inability to bind to their receptor, and/or abnormalities in nerve transport and processing, remains to be established. Although early studies in humans on the role of neurotrophic factors as a therapy for diabetic neuropathy have been unsuccessful, newer agents and the possibilities uncovered by further studies should fuel clinical trials for several generations. It seems reasonable to anticipate that neurotrophic factor therapy, specifically targeted at different nerve fiber populations, might enter the therapeutic armamentarium.