Knowledge about nerve regeneration after nerve injury and reconstruction in appropriate diabetic animal models is incomplete. Short-term nerve regeneration after reconstruction of a 10 mm sciatic nerve defect with either a hollow chitosan conduit or an autologous nerve graft was investigated in healthy Wistar and diabetic Goto-Kakizaki (GK) rats. After 21 days, axonal outgrowth, presence of activated and apoptotic Schwann cells, as well as thickness of the formed matrix in the conduits were measured. In general, nerve regeneration was superior in autologous nerve grafts. In chitosan conduits, a matrix, which was thicker in diabetic rats, was formed and was positively correlated with length of axonal outgrowth. Axonal outgrowth in conduits and in nerve grafts extended further in diabetic rats compared to healthy rats. There was a higher percentage of activating transcription factor 3 (ATF-3) immunostained cells in nerve segments from healthy rats compared to diabetic rats after autologous nerve graft reconstruction. In chitosan conduits, more cleaved caspase 3 stained Schwann cells were generally observed in the matrix from the diabetic rats compared to healthy rats. However, there were fewer apoptotic cells in the distal segment in diabetic rats reconstructed with a chitosan conduit. Preoperative glucose levels were positively correlated with axonal outgrowth after both reconstruction mehods. Axonal regeneration was better in autologous nerve grafts compared to hollow chitosan conduits and was enhanced in diabetic GK rats compared to healthy rats after reconstruction. This study provides insights into the nerve regeneration process in a clinically relevant diabetic animal model. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.