Background: Decreased lean muscle mass in the lower extremity in diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN) is thought to contribute to altered joint loading, immobility, and disability. However, the mechanism behind this loss is unknown and could derive from a reduction in size of myofibers (atrophy), destruction of myofibers (degeneration), or both. Degenerative changes require participation of muscle stem (satellite) cells to regenerate lost myofibers and restore lean mass. Determining the degenerative state and residual regenerative capacity of DPN muscle will inform the utility of regeneration-targeted therapeutic strategies.
Methods: Biopsies were acquired from 2 muscles in 12 individuals with and without diabetic neuropathy undergoing below-knee amputation surgery. Biopsies were subdivided for histological analysis, transcriptional profiling, and satellite cell isolation and culture.
Results: Histological analysis revealed evidence of ongoing degeneration and regeneration in DPN muscles. Transcriptional profiling supports these findings, indicating significant upregulation of regeneration-related pathways. However, regeneration appeared to be limited in samples exhibiting the most severe structural pathology as only extremely small, immature regenerated myofibers were found. Immunostaining for satellite cells revealed a significant decrease in their relative frequency only in the subset with severe pathology. Similarly, a reduction in fusion in cultured satellite cells in this group suggests impairment in regenerative capacity in severe DPN pathology.
Conclusion: DPN muscle exhibited features of degeneration with attempted regeneration. In the most severely pathological muscle samples, regeneration appeared to be stymied and our data suggest that this may be partly due to intrinsic dysfunction of the satellite cell pool in addition to extrinsic structural pathology (eg, nerve damage).
Clinical relevance: Restoration of DPN muscle function for improved mobility and physical activity is a goal of surgical and rehabilitation clinicians. Identifying myofiber degeneration and compromised regeneration as contributors to dysfunction suggests that adjuvant cell-based therapies may improve clinical outcomes.
Keywords: degeneration; diabetes; satellite cells; transcriptional analysis.