The neuropathologic changes that may underlie autonomic nervous system dysfunction in nondiabetic elderly human subjects or as a complication of diabetes have been systematically examined in sympathetic ganglia of a series of autopsied human subjects. As in animal models of aging and diabetes, enormously swollen terminal axons were found closely apposed to the perikarya of principal sympathetic neurons in prevertebral superior mesenteric sympathetic ganglia of aged and diabetic human subjects. Dystrophic axons consisted of two stereotyped forms: the first was composed of large numbers of misalligned aggregates of neurofilaments surrounded by variable numbers of small dense core vesicles; the second was characterized by large numbers of mitochondria, vacuoles, and dense and multivesicular bodies. The fine structural characteristics of neuroaxonal dystrophy, its predilection for prevertebral rather than paravertebral sympathetic ganglia, and the tendency for multiple dystrophic axons to cluster preferentially around selected neurons were identical in aged and diabetic human ganglia and were similar to changes seen in animal models of aging and diabetes. Neither diabetic nor aging ganglia demonstrated evidence of neuronal degeneration. Such structural changes may represent a degenerative influence of diabetes and aging on the normal remodeling of nerve terminals in autonomic ganglia, i. e., the continually ongoing process of turnover and replacement of axonal terminals. Similarity of lesions in human diabetes and aging suggests the possibility of pathogenetic mechanisms that are common to diabetes and the aging process. The substantial parallels between humans and animal models provide support for the validity of testing some proposed pathogenetic mechanisms directly in animal models. © 1992 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.
- Autonomic neuropathy
- Neuroaxonal dystrophy
- Prevertebral sympathetic ganglia