Effects of hyperglycemia on rat cavernous nerve axons: A functional and ultrastructural study

Elena G. Zotova, Herbert H. Schaumburg, Cedric S. Raine, Barbara Cannella, Moses Tar, Arnold Melman, Joseph C. Arezzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The present study explored parallel changes in the physiology and structure of myelinated (Aδ) and unmyelinated (C) small diameter axons in the cavernous nerve of rats associated with streptozotocin-induced hyperglycemia. Damage to these axons is thought to play a key role in diabetic autonomic neuropathy and erectile dysfunction, but their pathophysiology has been poorly studied. Velocities in slow conducting fibers were measured by applying multiple unit procedures; histopathology was evaluated with both light and electron microscopy. To our knowledge, these are the initial studies of slow nerve conduction velocities in the distal segments of the cavernous nerve. We report that hyperglycemia is associated with a substantial reduction in the amplitude of the slow conducting response, as well as a slowing of velocities within this very slow range (< 2.5m/s). Even with prolonged hyperglycemia (> 4months), histopathological abnormalities were mild and limited to the distal segments of the cavernous nerve. Structural findings included dystrophic changes in nerve terminals, abnormal accumulations of glycogen granules in unmyelinated and preterminal axons, and necrosis of scattered smooth muscle fibers. The onset of slowing of velocity in the distal cavernous nerve occurred subsequent to slowing in somatic nerves in the same rats. The functional changes in the cavernous nerve anticipated and exceeded the axonal degeneration detected by morphology. The physiologic techniques outlined in these studies are feasible in most electrophysiologic laboratories and could substantially enhance our sensitivity to the onset and progression of small fiber diabetic neuropathy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)439-447
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental Neurology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2008


  • Cavernous nerve
  • Cavernous smooth muscles
  • Diabetes
  • Diabetic autonomic neuropathy
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Major pelvic ganglia
  • Nerve conduction velocity
  • Neuroaxonal dystrophy
  • Parasympathetic
  • Small fiber neuropathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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