Supervised exercise improves cutaneous reinnervation capacity in metabolic syndrome patients

Ann Neurol. 2015 Jan;77(1):146-53. doi: 10.1002/ana.24310. Epub 2014 Dec 4.


Objective: Unmyelinated cutaneous axons are vulnerable to physical and metabolic injury, but also capable of rapid regeneration. This balance may help determine risk for peripheral neuropathy associated with diabetes or metabolic syndrome. Capsaicin application for 48 hours induces cutaneous fibers to die back into the dermis. Regrowth can be monitored by serial skin biopsies to determine intraepidermal nerve fiber density (IENFD). We used this capsaicin axotomy technique to examine the effects of exercise on cutaneous regenerative capacity in the setting of metabolic syndrome.

Methods: Baseline ankle IENFD and 30-day cutaneous regeneration after thigh capsaicin axotomy were compared for participants with type 2 diabetes (n = 35) or metabolic syndrome (n = 32) without symptoms or examination evidence of neuropathy. Thirty-six participants (17 with metabolic syndrome) then joined twice weekly observed exercise and lifestyle counseling. Axotomy regeneration was repeated in month 4 during this intervention.

Results: Baseline distal leg IENFD was significantly reduced for both metabolic syndrome and diabetic groups. With exercise, participants significantly improved exercise capacity and lower extremity power. Following exercise, 30-day reinnervation rate improved (0.051 ± 0.027 fibers/mm/day before vs 0.072 ± 0.030 after exercise, p = 0.002). Those who achieved improvement in more metabolic syndrome features experienced a greater degree of 30-day reinnervation (p < 0.012).

Interpretation: Metabolic syndrome was associated with reduced baseline IENFD and cutaneous regeneration capacity comparable to that seen in diabetes. Exercise-induced improvement in metabolic syndrome features increased cutaneous regenerative capacity. The results underscore the potential benefit to peripheral nerve function of a behavioral modification approach to metabolic improvement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Biopsy
  • Capsaicin / therapeutic use
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolic Diseases* / complications
  • Metabolic Diseases* / pathology
  • Metabolic Diseases* / rehabilitation
  • Nerve Regeneration / drug effects
  • Nerve Regeneration / physiology*
  • Skin / innervation*
  • Skin Diseases / drug therapy
  • Skin Diseases / etiology*
  • Time Factors


  • Capsaicin