This study examined anterograde and retrograde accumulation of axonally transported 6-phosphofructokinase activity, proximal and distal to sciatic nerve constrictions, in rats with streptozotocin-induced diabetes of 4 weeks' duration. There were deficits in accumulation on both sides of the constriction in untreated diabetic rats (proximal accumulation 66% of controls, p less than 0.05; distal accumulation 32% of controls, p less than 0.01). There was also a reduction in the phosphofructokinase activity per unit length unconstricted sciatic nerve in the untreated diabetic rats (87% of controls, p less than 0.05). Treatment of an age-matched group of diabetic rats with twice-daily insulin prevented all the above changes. There were significant increases, over untreated diabetic rats, in phosphofructokinase activity accumulated at constrictions (p less than 0.01 for both proximal and distal) and in unconstricted nerve (p less than 0.05). Indeed the activities measured in insulin-treated diabetic rats were virtually identical to those of controls. Treatment of a third group of diabetic rats with the aldose reductase inhibitor 'Statil' prevented or attenuated accumulations of polyol pathway metabolites and prevented depletion of myo-inositol in the sciatic nerve. In spite of these indications of effective aldose reductase inhibition, the drug was without effect on the deficits in accumulation of activity at ligatures or unconstricted nerve levels of phosphofructokinase activity. We conclude that short-term experimental diabetes in rats induced defects in both anterograde and retrograde axonal transport of 6-phosphofructokinase activity. These defects were prevented by intensive insulin treatment but were resistant to an effective aldose reductase inhibitor, indicating a lack of involvement of polyol pathway flux in their pathogenesis.