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Pathology. 2003 Aug;35(4):305-10.

Accumulation of triglycerides in the proximal tubule of the kidney in diabetic coma.

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  • 1Department of Medical Biochemistry, University of Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark.



The present study was initiated by a very recent histochemical observation of lipid accumulation in the renal cortex of a woman who died in a diabetic coma. Two older reports of lipid accumulation in the kidneys of patients who died, most likely in a state of non-regulated diabetes, supported this observation. We have examined whether lipid accumulation in the renal cortex is characteristic of diabetic coma and, if so, which type of lipid accumulates.


Three groups were studied. Ten subjects who died in a diabetic coma, eight diabetics who died of known causes unrelated to diabetes, and seven normal control subjects without any diagnosed diabetes who died of known causes. All were subjected to histological examination for lipid accumulation in the renal cortex. Detailed analysis of cortex lipids was performed for two of the subjects who died in a diabetic coma and all diabetic controls as well as non-diabetic control subjects.


All subjects who died in a diabetic coma showed vacuolar lesions staining strongly for lipid in the proximal tubules. Neither normal controls nor non-coma diabetics showed these lesions. Compared with normal controls, renal cortex lipid was about tripled in the two analysed diabetic coma subjects due to 60-100-fold increases of triglycerides. The non-coma diabetics did not differ from the other controls with respect to triglycerides or other types of lipid, except that cholesteryl esters were elevated, though still a quantitatively minor component.


Our findings strongly indicate that vacuolar lesions in the proximal tubules are characteristic of diabetic coma and that they are caused by accumulated triglycerides. Therefore, histological examination of renal cortex using a lipid stain may be a useful forensic tool in establishing diabetic coma as the cause of death.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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