Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a member of the neuropoietic cytokine family and has a multifunctional biological role in regulating the immune response, acute phase reactions, and hematopoiesis. IL-6 is also important in neural development and has neurotrophic actions. The aim was to ascertain whether IL-6 treatment could rectify some of the adverse early changes in neurovascular function in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. After 4 weeks of untreated diabetes, rats were treated with IL-6 (1-10 microg/kg thrice weekly) for 4 weeks. Diabetes caused 22% and 22.5% reductions in sciatic nerve motor and saphenous nerve sensory conduction velocity, respectively, which were dose dependently corrected by treatment. Diabetic rats also showed thermal hyperalgesia and tactile allodynia, which were completely corrected by IL-6; however, IL-6 was ineffective against mechanical hyperalgesia. Sciatic nerve endoneurial perfusion was 42.2% reduced by diabetes and blood flow was returned to the nondiabetic range by 10 microg/kg IL-6 treatment. The ED(50) values for these actions ranged from 1.2 microg/kg for sensory conduction velocity to 3.2 microg/kg for sciatic nerve perfusion. Thus, IL-6 treatment improved several measures of nerve dysfunction in experimental diabetes, and these effects correlated with a recovery of nerve blood flow. The magnitude of these beneficial effects and the potential joint neurotrophic and vascular action suggests that IL-6 could be a candidate for further evaluation in clinical trials of diabetic neuropathy.