Prediabetes ? a condition that precedes type 2 diabetes ? affects more than 80 million Americans. Peripheral neuropathy is a diabetic complication that results in a loss of sensation in the limbs due to peripheral nerve damage, and it can develop in both type 2 diabetic as well as prediabetic patients. Despite the prevalence and severity of peripheral neuropathy, there are currently no disease-modifying options. Novel therapeutic targets are therefore of critical importance for future treatments. Dyslipidemia is characterized by increased levels of saturated fatty acids in the plasma, resulting in altered levels of sphingolipids. Ceramides are one type of sphingolipid that are lipotoxic to neurons. Accumulation of saturated fatty acids leads to mitochondrial dysfunction, and cellular apoptosis and may play a central role in the development of peripheral neuropathy. However, monounsaturated fatty acids protect neurons from ceramide-mediated toxicity in vitro, likely via the formation of intracellular lipid droplets. Reversal of ceramide accumulation using monounsaturated fatty acid supplementation may therefore be an effective strategy for normalizing ceramide profiles and preventing peripheral neuropathy. We hypothesize that peripheral neuropathy in prediabetes is the result of toxic ceramide accumulation in neurons in vivo. We further hypothesize that supplementing prediabetic mice with monounsaturated fatty acids will enhance lipid droplet synthesis in neurons to prevent ceramide accumulation and subsequent neurotoxicity. We will test these hypotheses by: 1) determining the ceramide profile of prediabetic mice with neuropathy in both plasma and peripheral nerves, 2) evaluating the efficacy of monounsaturated fatty acid supplementation on ceramide accumulation in prediabetic mice during neuropathy, and 3) determining the mechanisms by which ceramides damage the peripheral nervous system as well as determining the mechanisms by which monounsaturated fatty acid ameliorate this damage. Together, these studies will demonstrate that dyslipidemia plays a central role in the development of peripheral neuropathy and provide an immediate therapeutic target for future treatments.

Public Health Relevance

Peripheral neuropathy is a severe complication associated with prediabetes and diabetes that is characterized by a loss of sensory function due to peripheral nerve damage. In this proposal, we will identify toxic ceramide accumulation in murine models of prediabetic neuropathy, reverse neuronal ceramide accumulation in mice with monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) supplementation, and demonstrate that MUFAs protect neurons by increasing lipid droplet formation and improving mitochondrial function in the peripheral nervous system. Our goal is to identify MUFA supplementation as an accessible and targeted therapy to reverse toxic ceramide accumulation and reverse or halt the progression of neuropathy.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
Career Transition Award (K99)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Kidney, Urologic and Hematologic Diseases D Subcommittee (DDK)
Program Officer
Jones, Teresa L Z
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Schools of Medicine
Ann Arbor
United States
Zip Code