Evidence implicates hyperglycemia-derived oxygen free radicals as mediators of diabetic complications. However, intervention studies with classic antioxidants, such as vitamin E, failed to demonstrate any beneficial effect. Recent studies demonstrate that a single hyperglycemia-induced process of overproduction of superoxide by the mitochondrial electron-transport chain seems to be the first and key event in the activation of all other pathways involved in the pathogenesis of diabetic complications. These include increased polyol pathway flux, increased advanced glycosylation end product formation, activation of protein kinase C, and increased hexosamine pathway flux. Superoxide overproduction is accompanied by increased nitric oxide generation, due to an endothelial NOS and inducible NOS uncoupled state, a phenomenon favoring the formation of the strong oxidant peroxynitrite, which in turn damages DNA. DNA damage is an obligatory stimulus for the activation of the nuclear enzyme poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase. Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase activation in turn depletes the intracellular concentration of its substrate NAD+, slowing the rate of glycolysis, electron transport, and ATP formation, and produces an ADP-ribosylation of the GAPDH. These processes result in acute endothelial dysfunction in diabetic blood vessels that, convincingly, also contributes to the development of diabetic complications. These new findings may explain why classic antioxidants, such as vitamin E, which work by scavenging already-formed toxic oxidation products, have failed to show beneficial effects on diabetic complications and may suggest new and attractive “causal” antioxidant therapy. New low–molecular mass compounds that act as SOD or catalase mimetics or l-propionyl-carnitine and lipoic acid, which work as intracellular superoxide scavengers, improving mitochondrial function and reducing DNA damage, may be good candidates for such a strategy, and preliminary studies support this hypothesis. This “causal” therapy would also be associated with other promising tools such as LY 333531, PJ34, and FP15, which block the protein kinase β isoform, poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase, and peroxynitrite, respectively. While waiting for these focused tools, we may have other options: thiazolinediones, statins, ACE inhibitors, and angiotensin 1 inhibitors can reduce intracellular oxidative stress generation, and it has been suggested that many of their beneficial effects, even in diabetic patients, are due to this property.
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Prof. Antonio Ceriello, Chair of Internal Medicine, University of Udine, P.le S. Maria della Misericordia, 33100 Udine, Italy. E-mail:.
Received for publication 2 May 2002 and accepted in revised form 12 February 2003.
A table elsewhere in this issue shows conventional and Système International (SI) units and conversion factors for many substances.
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