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New study offers insight into one of the most painful side effects of diabetes

September 4, 2012 in News

The impact of painful diabetic neuropathy (PDN) on the lives of those affected by it is well understood. Recent estimates suggest that up to 50% of those with diabetes suffer from the distressing condition, and the persistent abnormal pain impairs patients’ quality of life and affects sleep, mood, mobility, ability to work, relationships, self-esteem and independence.

What has not been understood is the origins of the condition; how abnormal glucose metabolism produces heightened pain in diabetics. The link has been the focus of extensive research efforts by a multi-national collaboration between scientists from Warwick Medical School in the UK, and universities in Germany, New York, Australia and Eastern Europe.

In an article recently published in Nature Medicine, the researchers described their efforts with a reactive compound produced excessively from glucose in diabetes called methylglyoxal (MG). Their recent work has demonstrated that MG is a major contributor to the pain and sensitivity of PDN.

Professor Thornalley from the University of Warwick, explained that MG seems to target a protein in the nerve endings. When this protein, called ‘Nav 1.8’ is attacked and modified by MG, this causes “nerves to become super-sensitive to pain and extremes of temperature. So diabetics typically develop a heightened sensitivity to hot and cold, accompanied with intense pain.”

The exciting news for diabetes dealing with PDN is that the identification of the mechanism behind the painful symptoms allows researchers to zero in on potential new treatments. The research team is continuing their efforts, and has found that “using small peptides to ‘scavenge’ the problem-causing compound will lead to a reduction in pain and opens up new routes to develop accurate, targeted drug treatments to help diabetics.”

One of the promising avenues for the team is investigating ways to increase the amount of an enzyme, glyoxalase 1 (Glo1), which removes MG catalytically.

Professor Thornalley added, “with global rates of diabetes increasing each year, our research is offering valuable insight into the science behind why glucose metabolism causes so many side effects and ultimately how we can develop treatments to improve patient care and outcomes.”

You can access the original article at the following link:


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