Quantitative immunocytochemical analysis of complement proteins (CP) was performed on sural nerve biopsies from 15 patients with diabetic neuropathy (DN) and 18 nondiabetic patients with other forms of chronic neuropathy (ON). The mean age of the patients and the pathological severity of the neuropathy were similar in both groups. The percentage of patients that expressed strongly immunoreactive CP in the walls of endoneurial microvessels was significantly greater in DN than in ON for all proteins tested. C3d neoantigen was expressed in 100% of DN cases compared with 17% of ON; and membrane attack complex (MAC), C5b-9 neoantigen, in 93% of DN and 17% of ON. In the cases with DN, 81% of endoneurial microvessels, as identified by the endothelial marker, Ulex europaeus, contained C5b-9 neoantigen deposits, compared with 22% in those of ON, and the staining in DN was significantly more intense. Expression of the neoantigens of C3d and C5b-9 in nerve implies local activation of the complement system. In DN, activation of the complement pathway and formation of the MAC could injure blood vessels and adversely affect the circulation in the endoneurium.
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