[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Several groups have reported apoptosis of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) cells as a prominent feature of diabetic polyneuropathy (DPN), although this has been controversial. Here, we examined subacute (4-month) type 1 diabetic BB/Wor rats with respect to sensory nerve functions, DRG and sural nerve morphometry, pro- and antiapoptotic proteins, and the expression of neurotrophic factors and their receptors. Sensory nerve conduction velocity was reduced by 13% and was accompanied by significant hyperalgesia. The numbers of DRG neurons including substance P-and calcitonin gene-related peptide-positive neurons were not altered, although they showed significant atrophy. Sural nerve morphometry showed decreased numbers of myelinated and unmyelinated fibers. Active caspase-3 and Bax expressions were increased, whereas antiapoptotic Bcl-xl and heat shock protein (HSP) 27 expressions in DRGs were increased. Nerve growth factor (NGF) contents in sciatic nerves and the expression of NGF receptor TrkA in DRGs were decreased. Immunohistochemistry showed increased numbers of active caspase-3-, HSP70-, and HSP27-positive neurons. Examinations of DRGs revealed no structural evidence of apoptosis but rather progressive hydropic degenerative changes. We conclude that apoptotic stress is induced in DRGs but is counterbalanced by survival elements in subacute type 1 diabetic BB/Wor rats and that distal nerve fiber loss reflects a dying-back phenomenon caused by impaired neurotrophic support.