The peripheral nerve of experimental diabetic neuropathy (EDN) is reported to be ischemic and hypoxic, with an increased dependence on anaerobic metabolism, requiring increased energy substrate stores. When glucose stores become reduced, fiber degeneration has been reported. We evaluated glucose uptake, nerve energy metabolism, the polyol pathway, and protein kinase C (PKC) activity in EDN induced by streptozotocin. Control and diabetic rats received lipoic acid (0, 10, 25, 50, 100 mg/kg). Duration of diabetes was 1 month, and alpha-lipoic acid was administered intraperitoneally 5 times per week for the final week of the experiment. Nerve glucose uptake was reduced to 60, s 37, and 30% of control values in the sciatic nerve, L5 dorsal root ganglion, and superior cervical ganglion (SCG), respectively, in rats with EDN. Alpha-lipoic acid supplementation had no effect on glucose uptake in normal nerves at any dose, but reversed the deficit in EDN, with a threshold between 10 and 25 mg/kg. Endoneurial glucose, fructose, sorbitol, and myo-inositol were measured in sciatic nerve. Alpha-lipoic acid had no significant effect on either energy metabolism or polyol pathway of normal nerves. In EDN, endoneurial glucose, fructose, and sorbitol were significantly increased, while myo-inositol was significantly reduced. Alpha-lipoic acid had a biphasic effect: it dose-dependently increased fructose, glucose, and sorbitol, peaking at 25 mg/kg, and then fell beyond that dose, and it dose-dependently increased myo-inositol. Sciatic nerve cytosolic PKC was increased in EDN. ATP, creatine phosphate, and lactate were measured in sciatic nerve and SCG. Alpha-lipoic acid prevented the reduction in SCG creatine phosphate. We conclude that glucose uptake is reduced in EDN and that this deficit is dose-dependently reversed by alpha-lipoic acid, a change associated with an improvement in peripheral nerve function.