Painful diabetic neuropathy (PDN) is a variant of diabetic peripheral neuropathy which is highly prevalent and distressing in diabetic patients. Despite its high burden, the optimal treatment of PDN has remained a clinical challenge. To explain the emergence and maintenance of PDN, increasing attention has been focused on dimensions of inflammation and oxidative toxic stress (OTS). Accordingly, the aim of this study was to investigate the effects of oral N-acetylcysteine (NAC), an agent with known anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, as an adjunct therapy in patients suffering from PDN.
113 eligible patients with type 2 diabetes suffering from PDN were randomly assigned to either the pregabalin + placebo or pregabalin + NAC group for 8 weeks (pregabalin at a dose of 150 mg per day, NAC and matched placebo at doses of 600 mg twice a day). Mean pain score was evaluated at baseline, week 1, 2, 4, 6, and 8 of the study based on the mean 24 hr average pain score, using an 11-point numeric rating scale (NRS). As secondary efficacy measures, mean sleep interference score (SIS) resulting from PDN, responder rates, Patient Global Impression of Change (PGIC), Clinical Global Impression of Change (CGIC), and safety were also assessed. Additionally, serum levels of total antioxidant capacity (TAC), total thiol groups (TTG), catalase activity (CAT), glutathione peroxidase (GPx), superoxide dismutase (SOD), nitric oxide (NO), and malondialdehyde (MDA) were assessed at baseline and at the end of the study.
Ninety patients completed the eight-week course of the study. The decrease in mean pain scores and mean sleep interference score in pregabalin + NAC group was greater in comparison with pregabalin + placebo group (p value<0.001 in both conditions). Moreover, more responders (defined as ≥50% reduction in mean pain score from baseline to end-point) were observed in the pregabalin + NAC group, in comparison with pregabalin + placebo group (72.1% vs 46.8%). More improvement in PGIC and CGIC from baseline to the end of the study was reported in pregabalin + NAC group. Oral NAC had minimal adverse effects and was well tolerated in almost all patients. Furthermore, in respect to OTS biomarkers, adjuvant NAC significantly decreased serum level of MDA and significantly increased serum levels of SOD, GPx, TAC, and TTG.
The pattern of results suggests that compared to placebo and over a time period of 8 weeks, adjuvant NAC is more efficacious in improving neuropathic pain associated with diabetic neuropathy than placebo. Ameliorative effects of NAC on OTS biomarkers demonstrated that NAC may alleviate painful symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, at least in part by its antioxidant effects.