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Experimental Diabesity Research
Volume 5 (2004), Issue 1, Pages 37-50

C-peptide, Na+,K+-ATPase, and Diabetes

Département de Nutrition-Endocrinologie-Maladies Métaboliques, CHU Timone, Boulevard Jean Moulin, Marseille Cedex 05 13385, France

Received 12 March 2003; Accepted 1 June 2003

Copyright © 2004 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Na+,K+-ATPase is an ubiquitous membrane enzyme that allows the extrusion of three sodium ions from the cell and two potassium ions from the extracellular fluid. Its activity is decreased in many tissues of streptozotocin-induced diabetic animals. This impairment could be at least partly responsible for the development of diabetic complications. Na+,K+-ATPase activity is decreased in the red blood cell membranes of type 1 diabetic individuals, irrespective of the degree of diabetic control. It is less impaired or even normal in those of type 2 diabetic patients. The authors have shown that in the red blood cells of type 2 diabetic patients, Na+,K+-ATPase activity was strongly related to blood C-peptide levels in non–insulin-treated patients (in whom C-peptide concentration reflects that of insulin) as well as in insulin-treated patients. Furthermore, a gene-environment relationship has been observed. The alpha-1 isoform of the enzyme predominant in red blood cells and nerve tissue is encoded by the ATP1A1 gene.Apolymorphism in the intron 1 of this gene is associated with lower enzyme activity in patients with C-peptide deficiency either with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, but not in normal individuals. There are several lines of evidence for a low C-peptide level being responsible for low Na+,K+-ATPase activity in the red blood cells. Short-term C-peptide infusion to type 1 diabetic patients restores normal Na+,K+-ATPase activity. Islet transplantation, which restores endogenous C-peptide secretion, enhances Na+,K+-ATPase activity proportionally to the rise in C-peptide. This C-peptide effect is not indirect. In fact, incubation of diabetic red blood cells with C-peptide at physiological concentration leads to an increase of Na+,K+-ATPase activity. In isolated proximal tubules of rats or in the medullary thick ascending limb of the kidney, C-peptide stimulates in a dose-dependent manner Na+,K+-ATPase activity. This impairment in Na+,K+-ATPase activity, mainly secondary to the lack of C-peptide, plays probably a role in the development of diabetic complications. Arguments have been developed showing that the diabetesinduced decrease in Na+,K+-ATPase activity compromises microvascular blood flow by two mechanisms: by affecting microvascular regulation and by decreasing red blood cell deformability, which leads to an increase in blood viscosity. C-peptide infusion restores red blood cell deformability and microvascular blood flow concomitantly with Na+,K+-ATPase activity. The defect in ATPase is strongly related to diabetic neuropathy. Patients with neuropathy have lower ATPase activity than those without. The diabetes-induced impairment in Na+,K+-ATPase activity is identical in red blood cells and neural tissue. Red blood cell ATPase activity is related to nerve conduction velocity in the peroneal and the tibial nerve of diabetic patients. C-peptide infusion to diabetic rats increases endoneural ATPase activity in rat. Because the defect in Na+,K+-ATPase activity is also probably involved in the development of diabetic nephropathy and cardiomyopathy, physiological C-peptide infusion could be beneficial for the prevention of diabetic complications.