Hyperglycemia, a major cause of vascular complications in diabetes, has been shown to activate the diacylglycerol (DAG)-protein kinase C (PKC) pathway in vascular tissues. We have found that D-α-tocopherol (vitamin E) treatment reversed the adverse effects of hyperglycemia both in vitro and in vivo. In aortic smooth muscle cells (ASMCs), the PKC specific activity from the membranous fraction and total DAG were increased by 31 ± 4% (P < 0.05) and 50 ± 7% (P < 0.05), respectively, when the glucose levels were changed from 5.5 to 22 mmol/1. D-α-tocopherol prevented the glucose-stimulated increases in DAG level and PKC activity as well as the amount of PKC βII isoform in ASMCs cultured with elevated glucose levels. Comparing streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats after 2 weeks of disease to controls, specific membranous PKC activities and total DAG levels were increased in aorta (162%, P < 0.05; 60%, P < 0.05). Intraperitoneal injection of D-α-tocopherol (40 mg/kg) every other day resulted in a significant decrease of the elevated membranous PKC specific activity and total DAG levels in parallel with a significant increase of D-α-tocopherol content in the aorta. These findings suggested that D-α-tocopherol can prevent the activation of PKC in the vascular cells and aorta induced by hyperglycemia by normalizing the elevated levels of DAG.

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