Analysis of slow axonal transport in the sciatic and primary visual systems of rats with streptozotocin-induced diabetes of 4-6 weeks duration showed impairment of the transport of neurofilament subunits, tubulin, actin, and a 30- and a 60-kDa polypeptide in both systems. The degree of impairment was not uniform. Transport of polypeptide constituents of the slow component b, such as the 30- and 60-kDa polypeptides, appeared to be more severely affected than the transport of constituents of the slow component a, such as neurofilaments. Morphometric analysis of sciatic axons revealed a proximal increase and a distal decrease of axonal cross-sectional area. It is proposed that impairment of axoplasmic transport and changes of axonal size are related. Transport impairment results in a larger number of neurofilaments, microtubules, and other polypeptides in the proximal region of the axon, which increases in size, whereas fewer neurofilaments, microtubules, and other polypeptides reach the distal axons that show a size decrease. Such changes in axonal transport and area are likely to occur in other diabetic animal models and in human diabetes.
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