Glycation in diabetic neuropathy: characteristics, consequences, causes, and therapeutic options

Int Rev Neurobiol. 2002;50:37-57. doi: 10.1016/s0074-7742(02)50072-6.


Glycation is the nonenzymatic reaction of glucose, alpha-oxoaldehydes, and other saccharide derivatives with proteins, nucleotides, and lipids. Early glycation adducts (fructosamines) and advanced glycation adducts (AGEs) are formed. "Glycoxidation" is a term used for glycation processes involving oxidation. Sural, peroneal, and saphenous nerves of human diabetic subjects contained AGEs in the perineurium, endothelial cells, and pericytes of endoneurial microvessels and in myelinated and unmyelinated fibres localized to irregular aggregates in the cytoplasm and interstitial collagen and basement membranes. Pentosidine content was increased in cytoskeletal and myelin protein extracts of the sural nerve of human subjects and cytoskeletal proteins of the sciatic nerve of streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. AGEs in the sciatic nerve of diabetic rats were decreased by islet transplantation. Improved glycemic control of diabetic patients may be expected to decrease protein glycation in the nerve. Protein glycation may decrease cytoskeletal assembly, induce protein aggregation, and provide ligands for cells surface receptors. The receptor for advanced glycation and products (RAGE) was expressed in peripheral neurons. It is probable that high intracellular glucose concentration is an important trigger for increased glycation, leading to increased formation of methylglyoxal, glyoxal, and 3-deoxyglucosone that glycate proteins to form AGEs intracellularly and extracellularly. Oxidative stress enhances these processes and is, in turn, enhanced by AGE/RAGE interactions. An established therapeutic strategy to prevent glycation is the use of alpha-oxoaldehyde scavengers. Available therapeutic options for trial are high-dose nicotinamide and thiamine therapies to prevent methylglyoxal formation. Future possible therapeutic strategies are RAGE antagonists and inducers of the enzymatic antiglycation defense. More research is required to understand the role of glycation in the development of diabetic neuropathy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / drug therapy
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / metabolism*
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Glycation End Products, Advanced / metabolism*
  • Glycosylation*
  • Humans
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Peripheral Nerves / metabolism*
  • Receptor for Advanced Glycation End Products
  • Receptors, Immunologic / metabolism


  • Antioxidants
  • Glycation End Products, Advanced
  • Receptor for Advanced Glycation End Products
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • Glucose