Sex differences in insulin resistance, but not peripheral neuropathy, in a diet-induced prediabetes mouse model

Dis Model Mech. 2021 Apr 1;14(4):dmm048909. doi: 10.1242/dmm.048909. Epub 2021 Apr 15.


Peripheral neuropathy (PN) is a common complication of prediabetes and diabetes and is an increasing problem worldwide. Existing PN treatments rely solely on glycemic control, which is effective in type 1 but not type 2 diabetes. Sex differences in response to anti-diabetic drugs further complicate the identification of effective PN therapies. Preclinical research has been primarily carried out in males, highlighting the need for increased sex consideration in PN models. We previously reported PN sex dimorphism in obese leptin-deficient ob/ob mice. This genetic model is inherently limited, however, owing to leptin's role in metabolism. Therefore, the current study goal was to examine PN and insulin resistance in male and female C57BL6/J mice fed a high-fat diet (HFD), an established murine model of human prediabetes lacking genetic mutations. HFD mice of both sexes underwent longitudinal phenotyping and exhibited expected metabolic and PN dysfunction compared to standard diet (SD)-fed animals. Hindpaw thermal latencies to heat were shorter in HFD females versus HFD males, as well as SD females versus males. Compared to HFD males, female HFD mice exhibited delayed insulin resistance, yet still developed the same trajectory of nerve conduction deficits and intraepidermal nerve fiber density loss. Subtle differences in adipokine levels were also noted by sex and obesity status. Collectively, our results indicate that although females retain early insulin sensitivity upon HFD challenge, this does not protect them from developing the same degree of PN as their male counterparts. This article has an associated First Person interview with the first author of the paper.

Keywords: Diabetes; High-fat diet; Insulin resistance; Obesity; Peripheral neuropathy; Sex dimorphism.