OBJECTIVE To examine persistence of C-peptide production by ultrasensitive assay years after onset of type 1 diabetes and factors associated with preserving β-cell function.
RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS Serum C-peptide levels, a marker of insulin production and surviving β-cells, were measured in human subjects (n = 182) by ultrasensitive assay, as was β-cell functioning. Twenty-two times more sensitive than standard assays, this assay’s lower detection limit is 1.5 pmol/L. Disease duration, age at onset, age, sex, and autoantibody titers were analyzed by regression analysis to determine their relationship to C-peptide production. Another group of four patients was serially studied for up to 20 weeks to examine C-peptide levels and functioning.
RESULTS The ultrasensitive assay detected C-peptide in 10% of individuals 31–40 years after disease onset and with percentages higher at shorter duration. Levels as low as 2.8 ± 1.1 pmol/L responded to hyperglycemia with increased C-peptide production, indicating residual β-cell functioning. Several other analyses showed that β-cells, whose C-peptide production was formerly undetectable, were capable of functioning. Multivariate analysis found disease duration (β = −2.721; P = 0.005) and level of zinc transporter 8 autoantibodies (β = 0.127; P = 0.015) significantly associated with C-peptide production. Unexpectedly, onset at >40 years of age was associated with low C-peptide production, despite short disease duration.
CONCLUSIONS The ultrasensitive assay revealed that C-peptide production persists for decades after disease onset and remains functionally responsive. These findings suggest that patients with advanced disease, whose β-cell function was thought to have long ceased, may benefit from interventions to preserve β-cell function or to prevent complications.
This article contains Supplementary Data online at http://care.diabetesjournals.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.2337/dc11-1236/-/DC1.
See accompanying commentary, p. 459.
- Received June 29, 2011.
- Accepted November 17, 2011.
- © 2012 by the American Diabetes Association.
Readers may use this article as long as the work is properly cited, the use is educational and not for profit, and the work is not altered. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ for details.