There is an individual susceptibility to diabetic nephropathy, and oxidative stress is believed to play an important role in the pathogenesis of diabetic complications. Active oxygen species induce antioxidant enzyme expression in tissues, an effect considered to be a defensive mechanism. To test whether altered intracellular antioxidant enzyme production might explain the predisposition to diabetic nephropathy, we studied the effect of long-term (12 weeks) exposure to normal (5 mmol/l) or high (22 mmol/l) glucose concentrations on fibroblast antioxidant enzyme gene expression and protein activity in type 1 diabetic patients with and without nephropathy, nondiabetic nephropathic patients, and nondiabetic control subjects. Under conditions of normal glucose concentration in the culture media, CuZnSuperoxide-dismutase, MnSuperoxide-dismutase, catalase, and glutathione-peroxidase activity and mRNA expression were not different among the four groups. Under high-glucose conditions, CuZnSuperoxide-dismutase mRNA and activity increased similarly in all groups (P < 0.001 vs. basal), whereas MnSuperoxide-dismutase did not change. In contrast, catalase mRNA and activity as well as glutathione-peroxidase mRNA and activity increased in fibroblasts from type 1 diabetic patients without nephropathy (P < 0.001), in fibroblasts from nondiabetic nephropathic patients (P < 0.001), and in fibroblasts from nondiabetic control subjects (P < 0.001), but not in fibroblasts from type 1 diabetic patients with nephropathy. Exposure to high glucose concentrations significantly increased lipid peroxidation in cells, higher levels being found in cells from diabetic patients with nephropathy (P < 0.001). These data, while confirming that exposure to high glucose concentrations induces an antioxidant defense in skin fibroblasts from normal subjects, demonstrate a failure of this defensive mechanism in cells from type 1 diabetic patients with nephropathy, whereas skin fibroblasts from diabetic patients without complications or from nondiabetic nephropathic patients have an intact antioxidant response to glucose-induced oxidative stress.

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