Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that affects the nerves of the arms, legs, hands, and feet, causing symptoms such as pain, numbness, and tingling in the affected areas. According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, as many as 70% of people with diabetes eventually develop neuropathy. Pain from this condition is often difficult to treat, but researchers at the University of Virginia have recently made a discovery in mice that may shed light on how to effectively reduce nerve pain.

Previous studies have indicated that a certain type of calcium channel (a structure that allows cells to communicate with one another) plays a role in the development of peripheral neuropathy pain. To investigate how these calcium channels contribute to neuropathy pain, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine examined mice with neuropathy, Type 2 diabetes, and morbid obesity.

They found that high levels of blood glucose change the structure of the calcium channels in such a way that the channels are forced open and calcium is released into the nerve cells. This overload of calcium causes the cells to become hyperactive, which in turn causes the characteristic symptoms of neuropathy such as tingling and pain.

“Normally pain is useful information because it alerts us that there is a damaging effect — something happening to tissues. But this pain is typically without any obvious reason,” says researcher Slobodan M. Todorovic, MD, PhD. “It’s because nerves are being affected by high levels of glucose in the blood. So nerves start working on their own and start sending pain signals to the brain. It can be a debilitating condition that severely affects quality of life.”

Dr. Todorovic and his colleague, Vesna Jevtovic-Todorovic, MD, PhD, showed that the pain from neuropathy could be reduced in the mice through the use of neuraminidase, a substance that naturally occurs in both animals and humans.

The researchers note that this finding may help with the development of treatments not only for neuropathy pain, but for other conditions that cause chronic pain such as combat wound injuries or nerve damage from accidents.

For more information, read the article “Discovery Shows the Way to Reverse Diabetic Nerve Pain” or see the study in the journal Diabetes. And for more on dealing with neuropathy pain, click here.

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