Sensory and autonomic neuropathy affects the majority of type II diabetic patients. Clinically, autonomic evaluation often focuses on sudomotor function yet this is rarely assessed in animal models. We undertook morphological and functional studies to assess large myelinated and small unmyelinated axons in the db/db type II diabetes mouse model. We observed that autonomic innervation of sweat glands in the footpads was significantly reduced in db/db mice compared to control db/+ mice and this deficit was greater compared to reductions in intraepidermal sensory innervation of adjacent epidermis. Additionally, db/db mice formed significantly fewer sweat droplets compared to controls as early as 6 weeks of age, a time when no statistical differences were observed electrophysiologically between db/db and db/+ mice studies of large myelinated sensory and motor nerves. The rate of sweat droplet formation was significantly slower and the sweat droplet size larger and more variable in db/db mice compared to controls. Whereas pilocarpine and glycopyrrolate increased and decreased sweating, respectively, in 6 month-old controls, db/db mice did not respond to pharmacologic manipulations. Our findings indicate autonomic neuropathy is an early and prominent deficit in the db/db model and have implications for the development of therapies for peripheral diabetic neuropathy.
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