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Diabetes. 2002 Jan;51(1):159-67.

Hyperglycemia-induced apoptosis in human umbilical vein endothelial cells: inhibition by the AMP-activated protein kinase activation.

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Boston Medical Center, EBRC 820, Diabetes & Metabolism Unit, Section of Endocrinology and Department of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts 02118, USA.


Apoptosis has been observed in vascular cells, nerve, and myocardium of diabetic humans and experimental animals, although whether it contributes to or is a marker of complications in these tissues is unclear. Previous studies have shown that incubation of human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) with 30 vs. 5 mmol/l glucose for 72 h causes a significant increase in apoptosis, possibly related to an increase in oxidative stress. We report here that this increase in apoptosis (assessed morphologically by TdT-mediated dUTP nick- end labeling staining) is preceded (24 h of incubation) by inhibition of fatty acid oxidation, by increases in diacylglycerol synthesis, the concentration of malonyl CoA, and caspase-3 activity, and by decreases in mitochondrial membrane potential and cellular ATP content. In addition, the phosphorylation of Akt in the presence of 150 microU/ml insulin was impaired. No increases in ceramide content or its de novo synthesis were observed. AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activity was not diminished; however, incubation with the AMPK activator 5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide-riboside increased AMPK activity twofold and completely prevented all of these changes. Likewise, expression of a constitutively active AMPK in HUVEC prevented the increase in caspase-3 activity. The results indicate that alterations in fatty-acid metabolism, impaired Akt activation by insulin, and increased caspase-3 activity precede visible evidence of apoptosis in HUVEC incubated in a hyperglycemic medium. They also suggest that AMPK could play an important role in protecting the endothelial cell against the adverse effects of sustained hyperglycemia.

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