In this study, we investigated 1) whether long-term restoration of euglycemia by means of pancreatic islet transplants is capable of preventing and/or reversing renal functional and structural alterations in an experimental model of insulin-deficient diabetes, and 2) whether changes in extracellular matrix (ECM) and cell turnover at the glomerular level and biochemical abnormalities associated with hyperglycemia correlate with the renal outcome after transplantation. Male Lewis rats, rendered diabetic by intravenous injection of streptozotocin, underwent homologous islet transplantation via the portal vein at 2 weeks (study A), at 4 months (study B), and at 8 months (study C) after the induction of diabetes and killed 12 months after transplantation in study A and 4 months after transplantation in studies B and C. Age-matched nondiabetic and untreated diabetic rats were used as control animals and were studied at 4, 8, and 12 months. In the untreated diabetic animals, metabolic derangement was associated with increased erythrocyte polyol and fructose levels, tail-tendon content of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), total proteinuria, albuminuria, kidney weight, and mean glomerular volume as well as with marked glomerular and extraglomerular lesions. Glomerular gene expression for the ECM components fibronectin and collagen IV and for TGF-β was also increased, whereas glomerular cell proliferation was unaffected by diabetes. In study A, changes in renal function and structure observed in diabetic rats at 12 months were completely prevented by successful islet transplants. In study B, all functional and structural abnormalities detected in diabetic rats at 4 months of disease duration were virtually reversed by 4 months of euglycemia in transplanted animals, whereas they progressed further in untreated diabetic rats. In study C, the course of functional and structural changes observed in untreated diabetic rats was not reversed by islet transplantation. Likewise, tissue AGE accumulation and particularly upregulation of glomerular ECM and transforming growth factor (TGF)-β gene expression, which are believed to play a role in the pathogenesis of altered renal function and structure in diabetes, were normalized in transplanted rats from study A and study B, but not in those from study C. These experiments show that restoration of euglycemia by islet transplants is capable of preventing experimental diabetic glomerulopathy and reversing early changes in renal function and structure induced by diabetes. In a later phase of the disease, when glomerular matrix gene expression becomes independent of hyperglycemia, possibly because of the persistent increase in tissue AGE accumulation, metabolic control is not capable of reversing renal abnormalities.

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