It has been postulated that abnormal platelet and endothelial function may contribute to microangiopathy in diabetes mellitus. If this proposal is correct, alterations in platelet and endothelial function should be found before the appearance of vascular disease in insulin-dependent patients and in animal models of diabetes mellitus. This appears to be the case for the following: platelet aggregation, increased platelet production of the proaggregatory prostaglandin metabolite thromboxane, decreased endothelial production of the antiaggregatory prostaglandin prostacyclin, and decreased platelet survival. Insulin therapy will return some of these findings to normal. Platelet-plasma interactions that promote platelet aggregation and increased plasma levels of the platelet-specific protein β-thromboglobulin have been reported in insulin-dependent diabetic patients who have not manifested vascular complications as well as in those with vascular complications. It has now been demonstrated in animal models that platelet microthrombi are found in small retinal vessels after months of experimental diabetes.
Collectively, these findings demonstrate that alterations in platelet and endothelial function that favor thrombosis occur early in the diabetic state and may contribute to microvascular disease. There are several ongoing studies of antiplatelet agents in diabetic vascular disease that will provide clinical evidence bearing on the major postulate. Until these and other studies are completed, the platelet-endothelial story remains an attractive hypothesis in the genesis of diabetic microvascular disease.