Abnormalities in the microenvironment of dorsal root ganglia (DRG) might play a role in the pathogenesis of sensory abnormalities in human diabetic neuropathy. We examined aspects of DRG microenvironment by measuring local blood flow and oxygen tension in the L4 dorsal root ganglia of female BB Wistar (BBW) diabetic rats with mild neuropathy. The findings were compared with concurrent measurements of local sciatic endoneurial blood flow and oxygen tension. Diabetic rats were treated with insulin and underwent electrophysiological, blood flow and oxygen tension measurements at either 7-11 or 17-23 weeks after the development of glycosuria. Nondiabetic female BB Wistar rats from the same colony served as controls. At both ages, BBW diabetic rats had significant abnormalities in sensory, but not motor conduction compared to nondiabetic controls. Sciatic endoneurial blood flow in the diabetic rats of both ages was similar to control values, but the older (17-23 week diabetic) BBW diabetic rats had a selective reduction in DRG blood flow. Sciatic endoneurial oxygen tensions were not significantly altered in the diabetic rats. DRG oxygen tension appeared lowered in younger (7-11 week diabetic) but not older (17-23 week diabetic) BBW rats. Our findings indicate that there are important changes in the DRG microenvironment of diabetic rats with selective sensory neuropathy.