Probing the cause of diabetes-related pain
Uncontrollable sensations (e.g., pain and tingling) are all-too-familiar sensations for most diabetics. Neuropathic pain (NP), in particular, is the most worrisome and occurs in more than half of people with diabetes. Increased age and duration of diabetes appear to be significant risk factors for developing NP. Though it often plagues the arms, legs, hands, and feet, NP can occur in any body part. Doctors have long struggled to understand the source of the pain, let alone treat it.
Now scientists at the School of Medicine and at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, in West Haven, have discovered a potentially novel source of NP in diabetes.
In the May 16 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, Andrew Tan, Ph.D., associate research scientist in neurology, and Stephen G. Waxman, M.D., Ph.D., the Bridget Marie Flaherty Professor of Neurology and professor of neurobiology and pharmacology, report that that changes in the shape, density, and overall distribution of dendritic spines—signal-receiving structures that protrude from nerve cells—may underlie diabetic NP.
Treatment of diabetic rats with a drug that restored close-to-normal dendritic spine structure helped to reduce signs and symptoms of NP, findings that may provide new avenues for managing diabetic pain.