Epalrestat: an aldose reductase inhibitor for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy

Pharmacotherapy. 2008 May;28(5):646-55. doi: 10.1592/phco.28.5.646.


Diabetic neuropathy is one of the most common long-term complications in patients with diabetes mellitus, with a prevalence of 60-70% in the United States. Treatment options include antidepressants, anticonvulsants, tramadol, and capsaicin. These agents are modestly effective for symptomatic relief, but they do not affect the underlying pathology nor do they slow progression of the disease. Epalrestat is an aldose reductase inhibitor that is approved in Japan for the improvement of subjective neuropathy symptoms, abnormality of vibration sense, and abnormal changes in heart beat associated with diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Unlike the current treatment options for diabetic neuropathy, epalrestat may affect or delay progression of the underlying disease process. Data from experimental studies indicate that epalrestat reduces sorbitol accumulation in the sciatic nerve, erythrocytes, and ocular tissues in animals, and in erythrocytes in humans. Data from six clinical trials were evaluated, and it was determined that epalrestat 50 mg 3 times/day may improve motor and sensory nerve conduction velocity and subjective neuropathy symptoms as compared with baseline and placebo. Epalrestat is well tolerated, and the most frequently reported adverse effects include elevations in liver enzyme levels and gastrointestinal-related events such as nausea and vomiting. Epalrestat may serve as a new therapeutic option to prevent or slow the progression of diabetic neuropathy. Long-term, comparative studies in diverse patient populations are needed for clinical application.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aldehyde Reductase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Animals
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Rhodanine / adverse effects
  • Rhodanine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Rhodanine / pharmacokinetics
  • Rhodanine / pharmacology
  • Rhodanine / therapeutic use
  • Thiazolidines / adverse effects
  • Thiazolidines / pharmacokinetics
  • Thiazolidines / pharmacology
  • Thiazolidines / therapeutic use*


  • Thiazolidines
  • epalrestat
  • Rhodanine
  • Aldehyde Reductase