, Volume 47, Issue 9, pp 1488-1492
Date: 21 Aug 2004

Vascular calcification and osteolysis in diabetic neuropathy—is RANK-L the missing link?


Diabetic neuropathy is associated with osteopenia and calcification of vascular smooth muscle cells. These changes are most marked in patients with acute neuropathic osteoarthropathy (Charcot foot), in which osteopenia is universal and the prevalence of vascular calcification exceeds 90%. While it has been thought that both osteopenia and vascular calcification may be linked to sympathetic denervation with increased peripheral limb perfusion, the cellular mechanism was not clear. However, the recent recognition that the receptor activator of nuclear factor kappa B ligand (RANK-L)/osteoprotegerin (OPG) signalling pathway is central to the processes regulating bone turnover in a wide variety of medical conditions has raised the possibility that the same cytokines may be involved in the osteolysis which accompanies diabetic neuropathy. This is made more likely by the realisation that the RANK-L/OPG pathway is also thought to mediate the calcification of vascular smooth muscle cells in coronary and peripheral vascular disease. The circumstantial evidence underpinning this hypothesis is reviewed here, and it is suggested that the unregulated activation of RANK-L-mediated effects on bone and arteries may be triggered by the loss of nerve-derived peptides, e.g. calcitonin gene-related peptide, which normally exert a moderating influence on the pathway.