We examined the effects of aldose reductase inhibition on nerve biochemistry and function, blood flow and endoneurial oxygenation in experimental diabetes mellitus. After 1 month untreated diabetes in rats, treatment with the novel sulphonylnitromethane aldose reductase inhibitor, ZENECA ZD5522, prevented a progressive increase in sciatic nerve resistance to hypoxic conduction failure (p < 0.05). Motor conduction velocity deficits after 4 months untreated diabetes were rapidly returned to normal within 12 days (p < 0.0001) by ZD5522 treatment. Following 2-months untreated diabetes, examination of 1 month ZD5522 treatment dose-response relationships for correction of nerve sorbitol and fructose accumulations and reduction in myo-inositol concentration, sciatic motor and saphenous sensory conduction velocity and sciatic blood flow by laser-Doppler flowmetry revealed poor agreement between nerve function and biochemical indices. In addition, polyol accumulation differed between sciatic and saphenous nerves, the latter showing ten-fold lower sorbitol concentrations. Laser-Doppler blood flow was 60% decreased by untreated diabetes (p < 0.001) and there was a strong correlation between ZD5522-mediated increases in blood flow and conduction velocity (p < 0.0001). Measurement of nutritive endoneurial blood flow by microelectrode polarography and hydrogen clearance showed 44% and 45% deficits for 1 and 2 months untreated diabetes (p < 0.001) that were prevented by ponalrestat and ZD5522 treatments, respectively. In contrast, 2 months myo-inositol treatment from diabetes induction did not prevent reduction in blood flow or sciatic motor conduction velocity. A 37% reduction in endoneurial oxygen tension after 2 months diabetes (p < 0.001) was completely prevented by ZD5522 treatment (p < 0.001). The data show that a very high degree of polyol pathway blockade is necessary to correct nerve functional deficits and that aldose reductase inhibitors have a neurovascular action that does not depend on restoration of nerve myo-inositol.