To investigate whether measurements of proinsulin and/or intermediate proinsulin degradation products could be used to differentiate between autoimmune (type 1) and non-autoimmune (type 2) diabetes in young adults.Material and methods
Total proinsulin, intact proinsulin and 32,33 split proinsulin concentrations were measured in 25 patients aged 15–34 years with type 1 diabetes, as defined by the presence of at least two positive islet autoantibodies, and in 23 antibody-negative patients of similar age with type 2 diabetes, at the time of clinical onset of diabetes and at 3–4 months thereafter. Comparisons were made with data from 25 healthy subjects matched for gender and age.Results
Plasma levels of total proinsulin, intact proinsulin and 32,33 split proinsulin were significantly increased 2–3-fold in the patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes as compared with the controls, both in absolute terms (p < 0.0001) and when related to circulating insulin (p < 0.01–0.0002). In contrast, absolute proinsulin and 32,33 split proinsulin concentrations were significantly lower in patients with onset of type 1 diabetes than in controls. When proinsulin and split proinsulin release were related to plasma insulin, however, similar ratios were found in the type 1 diabetes patients and in controls. Using the 90th percentile for total proinsulin in the control group as the cut-off, the sensitivity and specificity for differentiation between autoimmune and non-autoimmune diabetes were 87% and 92%, respectively. At 3–4 months after clinical onset of diabetes, proinsulin secretion was still 2–3 times higher in type 2 than in type 1 diabetes patients (p < 0.001).Conclusions
Young adult patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes display disproportionate hyperproinsulinemia, whereas proinsulin secretion appears to be normal in patients with clinical onset of type 1 diabetes. Evaluation of proinsulin and 32,33 split proinsulin concentrations may be useful as a diagnostic tool in differentiating between autoimmune and non-autoimmune diabetes in young adults, particularly in those lacking islet autoantibodies at diagnosis.